HOUSTON (AP) — This is Max Scherzer’s shot.
Hurting so much over the weekend that it seemed his season might be over, Mad Max instead gets the ball for a final time — in Game 7 of the World Series.
“That’s what you live for,” the Washington Nationals ace said.
Baseball fans, same thing.
A matchup devoid of late-inning drama that’s threatening to set a record low for television ratings has suddenly turned into must-see TV.
“Maybe not how we drew it up in terms of how we got there, but it doesn’t take away the opportunity we have to win the World Series,” Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch said.
Zack Greinke, acquired by Houston in late July for exactly these situations, starts Wednesday night for the Astros.
“A little excited about it at the moment, but we’ll see,” Greinke said.
The wild-card Nationals, trying to rewrite franchise history with their first championship. The 107-win Astros, aiming to build a legacy by taking their second crown in three years.
A pair of teams that began spring training under sunny skies in February, working out side-by-side in the complex they share in Florida, now meeting in late October under the retractable roof at Minute Maid Park for the biggest prize of all.
So what to expect from Scherzer?
Unable to pitch Game 5 on Sunday night because of nerve irritation near his neck that required an injection, the three-time Cy Young Award winner is set to start this all-or-nothing showdown.
“The cortisone shot worked. That relieved the pressure on the nerve,” Scherzer said.
“Everybody has the belief in me and the doctors that I could get right and be ready,” he said.
Scherzer tossed in the outfield before Game 6 — a 7-2 win by the Nationals — and even loosened up in the bullpen in the seventh inning Tuesday night.
“Max is starting tomorrow,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We got him up knowing that if the game is tied or we were up a run we might have to use him. He wanted to go down there and just throw and get loose. We scored some more runs and I immediately shut him down.”
Whether the Game 1 winner, known for his incredible intensity, will be able to cut loose at full force, we’ll soon see.
“We don’t know if he’s healthy or not. We’re going to find out in the first inning,” Astros star Carlos Correa said.
If Scherzer returns and wins, it might well go down in sports lore, along with Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, Kirk Gibson hobbling around the bases and the night Willis Reed limped back on the court at Madison Square Garden.
“They’d probably make a movie about it. I bet, if he could, he could come back from the dead,” teammate Adam Eaton said.
The Nationals rallied to extend the only World Series where the road team has taken the six first games. So much for the home-field advantage.
“Doesn’t look like there is one right now, but I hope there’s one tomorrow. We’re waiting until the last game to have it on our side,” Hinch said.
Everyone available, probably.
Astros ace Gerrit Cole, certainly. And maybe Justin Verlander after going five innings Tuesday night.
“It’s a Game 7, all hands on deck. If AJ asks, I’m sure I’ll figure out a way,” Verlander said.
Houston played in the previous Game 7 of the World Series, when George Springer and crew hammered Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium in 2017.
Road teams took the two prior Game 7s, too — Joe Maddon’s Cubs at Cleveland in 2016 and Madison Bumgarner and the Giants at Kansas City in 2014.
Greinke gave up one run over 4 2/3 innings in his first World Series start when the Astros took Game 3. Acquired from Arizona at the trade deadline, the six-time All-Star is 0-2 with a 5.30 ERA in four starts this postseason.
Scherzer is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA this postseason in four starts and one relief appearance.
“For the people that followed this team the whole season, it had to be this way,” Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle said. “It was going to be this way. We’ve had a knack for kind of making things a little tougher than we needed to at times and drawing things out. We got off to the slow start but it just feels like it’s the most 2019 Nats thing for this to come down to Game 7 in the World Series.”
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.
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