AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON — On another eventful afternoon at Nationals Park, Washington right-hander Max Scherzer came within five outs of his second no-hitter of the season, shutting down the Cincinnati Reds into the eighth inning while striking out 10 batters in a 5-1 victory Monday, hours after closer Jonathan Papelbon was suspended for fighting with Bryce Harper a day earlier.
Scherzer did not allow a hit until Tucker Barnhart singled to left field on a 1-2 count with one out in the eighth. That came on Scherzer’s 105th pitch, and fans at the stadium rose to salute the right-hander with a standing ovation. To that point, the Reds only had three baserunners, on walks in the first, third and seventh innings.
Barnhart wound up scoring on Skip Schumaker’s single, the only other hit allowed by Scherzer (13-12), who left after the eighth.
In the bottom of the eighth, chants of “We want Bryce!” rang out in the stadium. Harper, a leading NL MVP contender, was not in the lineup.
Manager Matt Williams said that was because of Harper’s “part in the altercation” with Papelbon in Washington’s dugout during a game Sunday. Harper, though, said after Sunday’s game he was scheduled to be off Monday.
He entered Sunday leading the league in batting average (.339), homers (41), slugging percentage (.663) and on-base percentage (.470).
Papelbon, meanwhile, is done for the season: He will miss four games because he was suspended by the Nationals for the episode in which he grabbed Harper’s throat, and the other three games because he dropped his appeal of a Major League Baseball ban for throwing at an opponent’s head last week.
“It’s been a very difficult 24 hours for the organization,” Williams said at his pregame news conference, which started 1 1/2 hours later than scheduled. “Incidents like that in the dugout (are) not the way we want to play our games.”
Papelbon was acquired from the Phillies in a trade in late July in hopes of a possible postseason push.
The Nationals began the season as World Series favorites, but their playoff hopes officially ended Saturday, when the Mets clinched the NL East title.
“This has been a very disappointing season,” Williams said. “Everybody understands that.”
Before the eighth inning, Schumaker came closest to getting a hit off Scherzer — and he did so twice. In the third inning, left fielder Tyler Moore laid out for a diving catch, and in the sixth, second baseman Dan Uggla dropped to a knee to grab a liner.
Exactly a year ago to the day, on Sept. 28, 2014, Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann no-hit the Miami Marlins on the last day of the regular season, getting the last out on a spectacular catch by left fielder Steven Souza Jr., who is no longer with the Nationals.
Scherzer, the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner for Detroit, signed a $210 million contract with Washington this offseason. He already threw a no-hitter at Nationals Park in 2015, on June 20 against Pittsburgh, when he was one strike from a perfect game before plunking a batter with two outs in the ninth inning.
Scherzer’s pitch count was low Monday — 79 through six innings — so he had no trouble dialing up his fastball whenever he wanted to, regularly topping 95 mph and occasionally reaching 99 mph.
Ironically, only a day earlier, Scherzer spoke about ways in which his 2015 could have been more productive.
“There’s things I wish I would have, or where I could have, pitched better,” Scherzer said Sunday. “Even though I do feel I’m a better pitcher right now than I was last year, there’s things I’ve got to get better at in order to become a better pitcher.”
Well, he could not have been much better on this steamy, cloudy afternoon.
Wilson Ramos hit his 15th homer, Matt den Dekker his fifth — both solo shots — and den Dekker also doubled in a run for Washington.
Three of Washington’s runs came off Reds starter Brandon Finnegan (4-2), who threw five innings.