Zack Greinke erased any doubts about the identity of the best pitcher in baseball this season by outdueling his primary rival in the National League Cy Young race, Max Scherzer, Sunday afternoon. In doing so, Greinke extended his scoreless innings streak to 43 2/3 innings with eight scoreless frames in the Dodgers’ 5–0 win over the Nationals in Washington, D.C. Greinke dropped his season ERA to 1.30 and joined fellow Dodgers Orel Hershiser and Don Drysdale as the only pitchers since 1914 to make six consecutive scoreless starts.
Hershiser and Drysdale own the two longest scoreless innings streaks in major-league history. Hershiser broke Drysdale’s record of 58 consecutive scoreless innings, set in 1968, with 59 straight in '88. Now at 43 2/3, Greinke’s streak is the longest in the majors since Hershiser’s and it suddenly seems as if the 31-year-old righty will make a serious run at the all-time mark. He is still 15 1/3 innings shy, but that potentially puts him just two more scoreless starts from the record.
Greinke was absolutely dominant on Sunday afternoon, striking out 11, scattering three singles and a walk (a pitch-around of Bryce Harper), not allowing any of those four runners to reach second base and picking off the first of them, rookie centerfielder Michael Taylor, to end the third inning. Prior to Taylor’s single in that inning, Greinke had retired 28 straight batters stretching back to the single by the Phillies’ Ryan Howard leading off the second inning of his last start, another scoreless eight-inning outing in which no runner reached second. Howard was the only man to reach base against Greinke in that game.
Other than Taylor’s single, a flare over the shortstop, Greinke didn’t allow a ball out of the infield until Taylor hit a line drive that was caught by leftfielder Andre Ethier leading off the sixth. Of the 24 outs Greinke recorded, 11 came via the strikeout, eight came via groundouts and three were pop-ups. The other two were Greinke’s pickoff of Taylor and Taylor’s line drive to left, easily the hardest-hit ball Greinke gave up in the game. Greinke has now gone 19 innings without allowing a runner to reach scoring position, 21 without allowing an extra-base hit and 35 2/3 innings without allowing a runner to reach third base.
As dominant as Greinke was, the game wasn’t as lopsided as the final score and Greinke’s dominance might suggest. Though Scherzer wasn’t nearly as commanding, he held a far superior lineup to one hard-luck run through six innings, striking out eight against just one walk including three big punchouts of sixth-place hitter Yasiel Puig. Scherzer struck out Puig after walking Yasmani Grandal to load the bases with two outs in the top of the first, struck him out with one out and a runner on third in the fourth when the game was still scoreless and struck him out with two on and none out in the sixth, another scoreless frame for the Nationals ace.
Scherzer was unable to strand that runner in the fourth, however. With a 1–1 count on Alberto Callaspo, Scherzer fired a wild pitch off the right foot of home plate umpire Bill Miller that sent the runner, Ethier, who had led off the inning with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Grandal, scampering home. Catcher Wilson Ramos retrieved the ball and fired a throw to Scherzer, covering the plate, that would have been in time to get Ethier had it not sailed wide to the right. Instead, Ethier slid home uncontested with what was the only run of the first eight innings of the game. The Dodgers scored their other four runs via a parade of singles against reliever Blake Treinen in the top of the ninth.
It is worth noting here that Scherzer was facing a Dodgers lineup that was much closer to full strength than that of the Nationals, which is currently missing Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Denard Span due to a variety of injuries. In that context, as well as in the fact that this game was 1–0 heading into the ninth, the heralded pitching matchup delivered on its promise. This matchup marked the first time that the two opposing starters entered a game with at least 100 innings pitched on the season and ERAs of 2.11 (Scherzer’s mark) or below since a 22-year-old John Smoltz (2.11 ERA) matched up against the Expos’ Bryn Smith (2.04 ERA) exactly 26 years ago on July 19, 1989.
Still, Greinke was clearly better on this day, adding a single (while Scherzer failed to get down a sac bunt after Taylor’s hit), the subsequent pickoff of Taylor and a season-high 119 pitches on a sweltering day in the nation’s capital to his list of impressive feats Sunday afternoon. Greinke’s next start will come on Friday night in New York against the Mets, a team he has already blanked as part of his current run. If he opens that game with four scoreless frames, Greinke, who had a 38-inning scoreless streak in his Cy Young-winning season of 2009, will crack the top five all-time with his current streak, passing Bob Gibson’s streak of 47 scoreless in his landmark 1968 season to trail only Jack Coombs (53 in 1920), Walter Johnson (55 2/3 in 1913), Drysdale and Hershiser.