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Ron Darling hesitated to make the comparison, knowing it might sound like overstatement. But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed appropriate to him.
“It’s palpable,” Darling was saying over the phone. “You’re getting one of the great pitchers in the game and one of the great individuals you’re ever going to meet.
“I equate it to (Tom) Brady going to Tampa Bay. It might be a little different. But what did you think of Tampa Bay before Brady got there? You didn’t give them two thoughts. But because of who he is and what he brings, he goes there and you’re like, ‘Shoot, they’ve got a pretty good club.’
“I think Max will mean that much to the Mets. It’s like, ‘OK, they’ve come up short (in recent years) for a lot of reasons, but it’s a different team now.’ ”
Well, why not? Scherzer might not match up with Brady when it comes to championship rings -- who does? -- but he certainly has an aura about him, owed to his one title, his three Cy Young awards, his ability to hold off Father Time, and a will to win that is legendary among his peers.
For all of those reasons, Darling believes that Scherzer is the most impactful player the Mets could have signed this winter. His expected on-mound performance will be the biggest part of it, obviously, but the leadership intangibles associated with the 37-year-old right-hander may be very important as well.
There are indications that the chemistry in the Mets’ clubhouse was less than ideal last season, at least according to club sources I’ve spoken with in recent weeks. The end-of-season quotes from a few players saying they needed to be pushed more; the Francisco Lindor-Jeff McNeil dust-up; and the thumbs-down nonsense all offer reason, in retrospect, to believe the Mets needed stronger leadership.
As such it was worth noting that Scherzer talked openly during his Zoom call on Wednesday about how one or two new players can change culture in a clubhouse, almost as if he’d been made aware that something wasn’t quite right with the Mets in 2021.
Darling, meanwhile, said, “You hear a lot of stories, but it’s hard to assume clarity. Some of the stories seem to contradict what the players were saying all season, that they had a great culture in the clubhouse, so I’m not sure what to make of it.
“I can only go by what they were saying, but then you heard some of those quotes at the end of the season and it was like they came off what they’d been saying. Maybe they were determined to stick together... and then at the end they realized it wasn’t exactly what they thought it was.
“But to me none of that is as important as what they’re getting now with Scherzer. He makes everyone accountable by the way he works, the way he gets ready for games.”
To that point, Darling cited a first-hand example. Working the NLDS for TBS, he got to Dodger Stadium a few hours before Game 4, as usual, and started doing his preparation in the TV booth when he noticed Scherzer running from foul pole to foul pole in the outfield, the day after he’d taken a heartbreaker of a 1-0 loss, despite dominating the Giants for seven innings.
“So, I’m watching him run for awhile,” Darling recalled. “And then I go back to doing my pre-game work. And after awhile I look up and he’s still running. It seemed like he ran for an hour. I don’t know that for a fact, but it was long enough that at one point I remember thinking, ‘Damn, that freakin’ guy is still running?'
“That stuff is palpable on a ballclub, man. That works. He lost a 1-0 game, his team was down 2-1 in a five-game series, but he’s out there working like that because he believed he was going to pitch again.”
Scherzer did pitch again in that series two days later, coming out of the bullpen in Game 5 to pitch the ninth inning and close out a one-run game to win the series. Scherzer had done that type of thing for the Nationals in 2019 to help them win their championship, but this time it proved to be a little too much.
He only pitched 4 1/3 innings in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Braves, and then couldn’t make his scheduled start in Game 6 because of arm fatigue. Perhaps it was a sign that Scherzer at 37 can’t be Superman anymore, and the Mets would be smart not to push him too hard.
For his part, however, Scherzer was defiant on the subject during his Zoom call, insisting the problem was that his arm wasn’t as built-up as normal for the extra workload because the Dodgers had limited his pitch counts to try and preserve him for the postseason.
“They didn’t let me pitch enough,” Scherzer said.
Whether that’s actually true or not, it’s another reason that, as Darling noted, “Everybody loves and respects the hell out of Max.”
With all of that in mind, not to mention the collective state of ecstasy Mets fans have been in for the last week, Scherzer certainly seems worth the three-year, $130 million deal he signed.
Meanwhile, Darling says he can’t wait to see him team with Jacob deGrom at the top of the rotation, and notes that while the hype will be “as only New York will have it,” he believes the co-aces will thrive in the new dynamic.
“DeGrom is one of the best at compartmentalizing what he does and how to get ready for that,” Darling said. “It doesn’t matter if he plays for a team that wins 100 or loses 100, he makes sure his day to pitch is protected and taken care of. He does that better than anybody.
“And having Max around is going to help him in other ways. Just like Keith (Hernandez) used to banter with you guys, and Coney (David Cone) became that spokesperson type of guy with the Yankees, I could see Max taking that kind of role with the Mets and taking some heat off players who would prefer not to talk to the media.”
“Max just has that quality. He’s an incredibly intelligent ballplayer who’s put a lot of thought into a lot of things, and he’s going to be one of the main persons with the Players Association as they go through this lockout. You could make the argument that when you get to January, February, Max Scherzer is going to be as important as any player in the game.”
Yes, it was clear during Scherzer’s Zoom call that he is passionate about the need for change in the still-to-be-negotiated new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is hardly a surprise. His career is proof enough that he’s passionate about everything.
Or, as Darling suggested, even Brady-like.