PHOENIX -- Max Scherzer turns 25 on Monday, when he will presumably receive several boxes of gifts to mark the occasion. What he would most like, however, is for someone to package what he came up with on Sunday. "That's as good as it gets," Scherzer said after having pitched as good as anyone can.
In hurling the first seven innings of the D-backs' 9-0 victory over the Pirates, Scherzer was nearly automatic, a strike-zone-seeking missile burning a trail across the plate. In a performance Arizona manager A.J. Hinch called "great" and "dominant," Scherzer threw 85 of 109 pitches for strikes and fell behind by two pitches against only one of the 26 batters he faced. "My mentality as soon as I stepped on the mound was to get ahead," Scherzer said. "That was the big emphasis. Doing that is what makes me successful." Potent and clutch hitting made the day an overall success as an extra-base-happy offense in front of 27,507 helped with the D-backs' second straight Chase Field blanking of the Pirates. Following Saturday night's 7-0 shutout of Pittsburgh, Arizona posted consecutive shutouts for the first time since May 31-June 1, 2008, over Washington. The D-backs held the Pirates scoreless in the final 19 innings of the series they captured three games to one. Arizona's first five hits -- and eight of 14 overall -- went for extra bases, including two-run homers in the third by Mark Reynolds, his 26h, and in the eighth by Gerardo Parra. The D-backs (43-56) led two batters into the game as Stephen Drew and Parra led off with consecutive doubles off right-hander Virgil Vasquez (1-5). They scored their next eight runs with two outs. "That was great. Doing that just demoralizes the other team," Hinch said. "Along with Max's domination, the two-out runs were the story of the game." However, the runs ran a distant second to Scherzer (6-6). "Nasty," catcher Miguel Montero called him. "He was ahead of every single hitter and did his thing." "What a great performance," Hinch elaborated. "On all fronts: dominant stuff, first-pitch strikes, sticking it out to get out of that trouble in the seventh. An excellent, dominant performance. "With his early domination, he set the tone." Scherzer put the Bucs (43-55) on serious K-rations from the outset of this one. His first eight pitches of the game were strikes, and he made 15 of them among 18 first-inning offerings. Then he grew sharp. Snapshots of a precise recital to admire: First-pitch strikes to 20 of 26 batters. Three-ball counts to two of the 26 batters, and two-ball counts on only two others. At one point, midway through the fourth, Scherzer's strikes-to-balls ratio was 44-9. He did not deliver his 20th ball until his 100th pitch. The product of such command was not letting the Pirates even get a man to third base until there were two outs in the seventh. "That guy today, he was filthy. He was throwing hard, keeping guys off balance," said Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who had entered Saturday's game batting .303 and came out of Sunday's batting .296 -- after going 0-for-8 in the two games, with six strikeouts. "As bad as we're pressing right now, you've got to give credit to those guys." Scherzer's more mundane results: In seven innings, he gave up five hits, all singles. He notched his first win in more than a month, since a June 23 Interleague decision over Texas. He struck out eight. Walks? Get real. "I just focused on getting after them," said Scherzer, dismissing the suggestion that the Pirates' free-swinging rep played a significant role in his approach. That notion was reinforced by the fact 28 of the strikes credited to him had come on foul balls off Pittsburgh's bats. But he insisted that the Pirates' aggression influenced him "only in the sense that I tried to feed them offspeed stuff when we thought they might be sitting on something harder. Miggy [Montero] was very creative back there." Conversely, Montero did his best to ensure his batterymate didn't try to be too inventive. "I tried to keep it simple with him, didn't want him to get into his own head," Montero said. "He's a real high-energy guy, and can get too fired up, which is when he gets into trouble and starts to throw the ball all over the place. "So I kept calming him down." Scherzer calmed down and his star went up. The Chase Field faithful might have witnessed the birth of true excellence, a show so convincing Hinch classified it as a complete game, seven innings or not. "That was as confident and aggressive as I've ever seen him," said the manager. "His tempo was a little faster. He's learned that that's to his advantage. "For a strikeout pitcher, that kind of control is real dominant. As far his repertoire was concerned, that was a complete game."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.