PHOENIX — It’s hard to believe that Max Scherzer was once a 23-year-old rookie with immense potential but lacking refinement, wide-eyed and eager to learn from the pitching masters who would later become his peers.
This Monday night, Scherzer, now 39, will take the mound for Game 3 of the World Series as a member of the Texas Rangers, returning to the same place where he made his debut 15 years ago. It marks the beginning of a remarkable career that has yet to be fully appreciated by the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team he is currently facing.
His first appearance was in relief, pitching four scoreless innings. Looking back, it’s not surprising considering the company Scherzer was surrounded by.
Leading the Diamondbacks at the time was Brandon Webb, the reigning Cy Young Award winner who won 22 games in his third consecutive All-Star season. Dan Haren recorded 216 strikeouts, and Randy Johnson, still a legend in the desert, achieved his 292nd career win that season.
And there was Scherzer, less than two years removed from the University of Missouri, trying to find his place among them.
“Being able to learn and observe these guys as teammates when I first entered the league, I consider myself extremely fortunate,” Scherzer said on Sunday at Chase Field, where the World Series resumes with the Rangers and Diamondbacks tied, 1-1. “I learned so many nuances about the game from Dan, Randy, and Webby, especially Webby’s effective sinker/change-up combination.”
“Looking back, I wish I could reconnect with those guys and exchange notes. As a rookie, you don’t fully grasp everything you’re capable of. The conversations would be very different now than they were back then.”
And they should be. Scherzer has since won three Cy Young Awards, accumulated 214 career wins, and secured a World Series championship with the Washington Nationals in 2019. He is arguably the best right-handed pitcher of his generation.
However, baseball has a way of humbling even the best. Scherzer only spent two seasons with the Diamondbacks, starting 37 games and striking out 240 batters in 226 ⅓ innings. But he had not yet developed the unrivaled command he would later possess.
Arizona didn’t wait for that development. In December 2009, Scherzer was traded in a three-team deal that sent him and Austin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers, Curtis Granderson from the Tigers to the New York Yankees, and Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks.
It was a shocking change for a 25-year-old player.
“It’s part of the business of the game,” Scherzer acknowledged. “Any player can be traded at any time, especially when you don’t have a no-trade clause. I understand that GMs and front offices are under tremendous pressure to win, and good players get traded all the time.
“So you can’t take it personally when a team trades you away. Instead, you look at the next team and say, ‘This team wants me and is trading for me.'”
The rest is history: Scherzer would go on to win 16 games in his first season with the Tigers in 2012, earning his first World Series appearance. He would later sign a contract worth over $300 million, becoming a legend in Detroit and Washington. Now, he finds himself in a different role, pitching for the New York Mets in the 2022 playoffs before being traded to the Rangers this year.
Despite all the success and experience, the excitement of an opportunity like Monday’s Game 3 remains the same.
“This is a dream come true,” Scherzer expressed. “When you’re a kid, you dream of playing in the World Series, and to be able to live out that dream is incredible.”
However, the circumstances are less than ideal. Scherzer recently returned from a month-long absence due to a teres muscle strain in his throwing shoulder, causing him to miss the end of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs.
His return has been challenging: Scherzer gave up five runs in four innings during a Game 3 loss in the ALCS against the Houston Astros. In Game 7, he exited after just 2 ⅔ innings due to mounting trouble. The Rangers managed to win that game and advance to the World Series, but Scherzer only threw 44 pitches (he threw 63 in his return), leaving his potential contribution to the team uncertain.
The Diamondbacks pose another challenge, having scored 16 runs on 24 hits in the first two games. Only Corey Seager’s ninth-inning home run prevented Arizona from taking a 2-0 series lead.
Let the adrenaline flow.
“You have to rise to the occasion,” Scherzer insisted. “Many believe you should be calm and composed in big moments, but I believe the opposite is true for me.
“This is a significant game. You’re playing for the World Series. You have to match that intensity.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Max Scherzer to start for Texas Rangers on same mound where he debuted
David Rodriguez brings the excitement of Major League Baseball to readers. With a deep appreciation for America’s pastime, he covers the latest MLB news, scores, and player achievements, keeping fans up to date with their favorite teams and players.