Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds at Nationals Park, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon
September 28, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) At the close of another eventful afternoon at Nationals Park, Washington general manager Mike Rizzo placed his hands around a microphone at the outset of an unusual postgame news conference and said, with a hint of a smile, ''I was really rootin' for a no-hitter today.''

Anything to change the subject, right?

Hours after the Nationals suspended closer Jonathan Papelbon for fighting with teammate Bryce Harper in the dugout a day earlier, Max Scherzer came within five outs of his second no-hitter of the season, shutting down the Cincinnati Reds into the eighth inning while striking out 10 batters in a 5-1 victory Monday.

''I thought he was going to do it again,'' manager Matt Williams said. ''He was really special.''

Scherzer did not allow a hit until Tucker Barnhart singled to left field on a 1-2 count with one out in the eighth. That came on Scherzer's 105th pitch, and fans at the stadium rose to salute the right-hander with a standing ovation. To that point, the Reds only had three baserunners, on walks in the first, third and seventh.

''He was able to put a pretty good swing on it,'' said Scherzer, who no-hit the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 20 after coming within one strike of a perfect game.

Did he ponder getting no-no No. 2, which would have made him the first pitcher with two no-hitters in one regular season since Nolan Ryan in 1973?

''I thought it had the makings of it,'' Scherzer said.

Barnhart wound up scoring on Skip Schumaker's single, the only other hit allowed by Scherzer (13-12), who left after the eighth.

In the bottom of the eighth, chants of ''We want Bryce!'' rang out in the stadium. Harper, a leading NL MVP contender, was not in the lineup. Williams said that was because of Harper's ''part in the altercation'' with Papelbon in Washington's dugout during Sunday's game. Harper, though, said afterward he was scheduled to be off Monday.

He entered Monday leading the league in batting average (.336), homers (41), slugging percentage (.658), on-base percentage (.467) and runs (117).

Papelbon, meanwhile, is done for the season: He will miss four games because he was suspended by the Nationals for the episode in which he grabbed Harper's throat, and the other three games because he dropped his appeal of a Major League Baseball ban for throwing near an opponent's head last week.

''It's been a very difficult 24 hours for the organization,'' Williams said.

Papelbon was acquired from the Phillies in a trade in late July in hopes of a possible postseason push.

The Nationals began the season as World Series favorites, but their playoff hopes officially ended Saturday, when the Mets clinched the NL East title.

''This has been a very disappointing season,'' Williams said. ''Everybody understands that.''

Before the eighth inning, Schumaker came closest to getting a hit off Scherzer - and he did so twice. In the third inning, left fielder Tyler Moore laid out for a diving catch, and in the sixth, second baseman Dan Uggla dropped to a knee to grab a liner.

''All nine guys today brought their `A' game,'' Scherzer said. ''Contrary to what you guys believe, we can have distractions and still play well.''

Exactly a year ago to the day, on Sept. 28, 2014, Washington's Jordan Zimmermann no-hit the Miami Marlins on the last day of the regular season, getting the last out on a spectacular catch by left fielder Steven Souza Jr., who is no longer with the Nationals.

Scherzer, the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner for Detroit, signed a $210 million contract with Washington this offseason.

On Monday, he regularly topped 95 mph and occasionally reached 99 mph.

''The obvious thing for me,'' Reds manager Bryan Price said, ''is that he got stronger as the game went on.''

LUCKY NO. 13

Scherzer got his 13th hit of the season, setting a career high, with a single in the third, and then added another single in the fourth.

HOMER HAPPY

Washington's Wilson Ramos hit his 15th homer, and Matt den Dekker his fifth. Three of Washington's runs came off Reds starter Brandon Finnegan (1-2), who threw five innings.

UP NEXT

Reds: Open a three-game series at home against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday. The Cubs have clinched an NL wild card.

Nationals: Open a three-game series at Atlanta on Tuesday. Both NL East clubs have been eliminated from playoff contention.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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