Max Scherzer's Citi Field debut was pick-me-up Mets needed to complete doubleheader sweep

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Max Scherzer pitching blue jersey Citi Field debut
Max Scherzer pitching blue jersey Citi Field debut

The cold was bone-chilling, the type of April night when Citi Field has been empty and eerily quiet way too often over the years.

Not this one.

You don’t get a lot of electric nights this early in any season, but when Max Scherzer is making a run at a no-hitter and the Mets are making a statement, of sorts, with a doubleheader sweep of the San Francisco Giants, well, there was nothing short of an October feel to the way the crowd was reacting on every pitch in Tuesday’s second game.

In some ways it was reminiscent of this very same date, nine years ago, when a similarly exhilarated home crowd famously chanted, "Harvey’s better" as Matt Harvey outdueled Stephen Strasburg.

Except that was mostly a one-man show on a team not close to contending in 2013. These Mets are looking more and more like a team with legitimate championship possibilities, playing well in all phases of the game, finding ways to win after years of underachieving.

It was easy enough to shrug off their hot start against the Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, and Arizona Diamondbacks, but taking two from the Giants, who arrived in New York at 7-2 after winning 107 games last season, stamps their 9-3 record with a certain legitimacy that demands attention.

As Scherzer said after his spectacular performance in the nightcap, allowing one hit in seven innings while racking up 10 strikeouts, "This shows we’re a good ballclub. We can compete with the best."

He wasn’t throwing those words around lightly. Scherzer won a world championship with the Nationals, and in his short time as a Met he has already proven all the talk about his will to win is every bit as advertised.

Buck Showalter made that point Tuesday night, noting how Scherzer’s presence on the mound and the intensity he brings was never more necessary than after a win like the Mets pulled off in Game 1, rallying from three runs down and then winning with Francisco Lindors walk-off single.

"Winning a doubleheader in the big leagues is real, real hard to do," Showalter said. "Max was a real pick-me-up for us coming off such an emotional win. It’s hard for a team to maintain that sense of urgency and intensity for 18 innings, especially in those conditions, as cold as it was.

"But Max loves to compete and he expects the same from the guys out there with him. And they like playing behind him because of that. He was like a young colt in the dugout, bouncing around. I mean, we all know how good he is, but he’s not doing this at 25 or 28 years old. That’s what’s amazing to me.”

In fact, Scherzer will be 38 in July, and that was the only concern about giving him $43 million per year for three years. Yet he has astounded Mets people with his work ethic and determination, showing up for spring training more ready than any other pitcher even after devoting much of his offseason to his work with the players’ union negotiating a new CBA.

And even after dealing with a hamstring issue to start the season, on Tuesday he became the first pitcher in the majors to throw 100 pitches in a game this season, as he finished at 102.

As such the respect around the Mets continues to grow.

"If you ask me we didn’t pay him enough money for everything he’s meant around here already," one Mets’ person said late Tuesday night.

That legendary will to win was on display in his first two starts, working around the hamstring problem, but Tuesday was simply about his brilliance on the mound that has accounted for three Cy Young Awards.

It wasn’t just that he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before giving up an RBI single to Darin Ruf, or that he wound up with a one-hitter through seven innings, he did it on a night when he said the cold windy night made gripping the baseball feel like "trying to throw a cue ball."

As such, you got the sense Scherzer knew he pitched at an awfully high level.

"That’s a really good lineup," he said, standing at his locker. "You’ve really gotta be on point to get through that lineup."

As for the no-hitter, having thrown two already, including one at Citi Field in 2015, he said he’s got his own rules of sorts. Getting through the lineup twice, as he did, means "you’ve got a shot," yet he said, "it’s not until the seventh or eighth that you feel like you’ve got something."

Because he didn’t get that far he wouldn’t speculate about whether he would have come out for pitch count reasons. He was at 90 in the sixth inning just before giving up the hit to Ruf, which Showalter said pretty much meant he couldn’t have completed the no-hitter.

"We had decided his limit was 110 pitches," said the manager.

Still, Showalter had to be a bit relieved when Scherzer gave up the hit. He had joked in Philadelphia about how tough it is to take him out of a start in which he was struggling, so pulling him from a no-no was something he didn’t want to think about.

"He wasn’t going to throw 130 pitches," was as close as Showalter would come to answering the question.

At his locker, meanwhile, Scherzer said he was just happy he was able to go deep into the game, knowing there weren’t many relievers available after the first game of the doubleheader.

"That was the only pressure I felt, knowing I needed to go as deep as I could," he said. "The team needed it."

That team is flying right now, making all the big -- and small -- plays to win games that is in stark contrast to the last few years.

In many ways, the doubleheader opener was both the most impressive win of the young season and the one that most defined the different feel this team has under Showalter.

Then Scherzer took over, the night got colder and the fans got louder. The new guy is having that effect on everyone in Queens.