ATLANTA — Mad Max was made for Hollywood.
His eyes, one blue, one brown, burn with rage when he pitches.
The sinews in his neck stretched tight, he ferociously rips off his jersey and runs around shirtless every time the Dodgers celebrate.
And, oh, does he love to celebrate.
Mas Scherzer’s mantra: “Play hard. Party hard.’’
“And as you know,’’ Scherzer says, “I like to party.’’
Scherzer, acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 30, is the primary reason why the Dodgers are in the National League Championship Series against Atlanta, with Game 1 Saturday night at Truist Field.
It was Scherzer who started and kept St. Louis in check for 4⅓ innings during the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory over the Cardinals in the wild-card game.
It was Scherzer who pitched seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants.
It was Scherzer who pitched the scoreless ninth inning of their 2-1, winner-take-all victory for his first career save.
And now, here he is, lined up to pitch Game 1 or 2 of the NLCS, pitching for the third time this week.
“Pretty crazy, huh?’’ Scherzer said. “It’s been a wild ride.’’
It all started in mid-July when the Washington Nationals tumbled out of the playoff race, and general manager Mike Rizzo decided to sell off parts for a rebuild.
Scherzer, who had a blanket no-trade clause, consented to be traded, he said, but only to National League clubs.
“I wanted familiarity, so I wanted to stay in the National League,’’ he told USA TODAY Sports, “but it became pretty clear where I was going to be traded.’’
Rizzo told Scherzer that he would not trade him in the NL East, so Atlanta, Philadelphia and the Mets were out.
The National League Central was out, Scherzer said, since the Milwaukee Brewers had plenty of starting pitching, and the St. Louis Cardinals were on the outside looking in, unsure whether they even were a playoff contender.
This left the NL West where the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants were in an epic race for the division title, while the San Diego Padres were battling for a wild card berth. The Giants had brief talks with the Nationals, but trade discussions were never serious, leaving the Padres and Dodgers.
The Dodgers quickly became the favorite, particularly once the Nats were willing to include Trea Turner in a package deal. The Dodgers parted with prized catching prospect Keibert Ruiz, rookie pitcher Josiah Gray, Class AA outfielder Donavan Casey and Class AA pitcher Gerardo Carrillo.
There was a report that the Padres were swooping in and on the verge of acquiring Scherzer, but Scherzer immediately was informed it was false. Scott Boras, his agent, checked it out, and quickly dismissed it.
“I knew the general managers were still doing everything they could to line up the proposals,’’ Boras said, “and the proposals weren’t complete, because no one knew about Turner.
“I knew Washington’s intentions were, and what they were trying to do because Rizzo needed my consent, and we needed their consent, so we were going back-and-forth what would be agreeable and what he would want. … It was about winning, where can I go and when, what can I do.’’
He was going to the Dodgers, but there was only one hang-up.
The complex tax issues. Scherzer, a Florida resident, is still owed $105 million in deferred payments through 2028 and he was now going to be taxed in California. The Dodgers and Boras went back and forth, and finally, the Dodgers agreed to pay the difference in taxes, worth about $700,000.
The Dodgers weren’t about to let that stand in the way of acquiring a future Hall of Famer, and 10 weeks later, the trade looks ingenious.
Scherzer yielded a 0.78 ERA in his first nine starts with the Dodgers, going 9-0 with a 1.98 ERA in his 11 starts. Turner hit .338 with a .950 OPS moving to second base. And here are the Dodgers without three members of their original starting rotation – Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May and Trevor Bauer – eight victories away from becoming the first National League team to win back-to-back World Series titles since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76.
“That’s why I came here, to win,’’ Scherzer says. “That’s all that matters at this point in my career.’’
Scherzer is obsessed with winning. It has been nearly 10 years, and he still is angry that his ultra-talented Detroit Tigers team didn’t win a World Series during that glorious three-year stretch in 2012-2014.
“I still think about that,’’ Scherzer said. “We had such a great team in 2013. That was the year. We should have been having 10- 20-, and 30-year reunions from that team.
Now, after winning the World Series in 2019 with the Nationals and knocking off the Giants in the NLDS, he’s greedy.
This is why he volunteered to pitch out of the bullpen in Game 5, and was willing to return two nights later on Saturday.
Sure, Thursday was technically a bullpen day for Scherzer, but in between starts, you’re not running to the mound, snorting, grunting, throwing the ball as hard as possible, draining his body of energy.
“He brings that intensity and that dog mentality,’’ Dodgers teammate Gavin Lux says, “that I think we need. You see him step on the mound, and he’s a dog, man, and you want to play behind that guy.’’
He wants to pitch, no matter how he’s feeling. He went to the bullpen in the fourth inning in Game 5 of the Division Series, pacing back and forth for four innings, telling Dodgers manager Dave Roberts he was ready no matter the circumstance.
“This guy,’’ Atlanta manager Brian Snitker says, “is just a different animal. I mean, they say that he’s a Hall of Famer, and those guys, man, they’re cut from a different cloth than the normal guys.’’
This temperament is why Mad Max is made for the Dodgers. He’s a free agent after the World Series, but it’s hard to envision him signing elsewhere. The Dodgers want him, and Scherzer knows this is where he wants to be, leaving Washington in the rear-view mirror.
“I understand it, I don’t second-guess it,’’ Scherzer said. “There’s no animosity. We knew they were going to sell and move pieces. I understood Mike Rizzo’s assessment, and I agree with it. You needed to flip some pieces and get some prospects in order to win again.
“But, hey, I’m looking to win for the rest of my career, I don’t know how many years I got left.”
Scherzer, living up to every penny and more of his seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals, likely will seek at least a three-year contract to take him to 40. Boras isn’t tipping his hand, but considering that Scherzer is showing no signs of slowing down, they won’t limit themselves to a short-term deal.
“Age is not the issue,’’ Boras said, “performance is the issue. Max is considered an ace, and how many aces are there in our game?”
The perfect match, of course, is the Dodgers. They want Scherzer back. And Scherzer wouldn’t be willing to move from Jupiter, Fla., to California if he wasn’t intrigued about finishing his career with the Dodgers.
It’s looking more and more likely that Scherzer will be wearing Dodger Blue in 2022.
And the next two weeks will determine whether he’ll be wearing a matching World Series ring.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NLCS 2021: Dodgers’ Max Scherzer greedy for another World Series ring