WASHINGTON -- During a 2016 season in which Max Scherzer easily led Major League Baseball in strikeouts, he quietly topped the National League in a more dubious category: home runs allowed.
It made sense, therefore, that Scherzer began Friday's Game 1 of the National League Division Series with a strikeout of Chase Utley followed by a first-pitch home run served up to Corey Seager. The Nationals lost to the Dodgers, 4-3, largely because Scherzer, despite his usual swing-and-miss stuff, could not keep the ball in the park.
All of the damage against Scherzer came in the game's first three innings. Seager's solo homer in the first was followed by an Utley RBI single and a Justin Turner two-run shot in the third.
"Just mistakes," Scherzer said of the homer balls. "With Seager, I was trying to throw a belt-in fastball, and it was belt away, and that's why he was able to get his arms extended and hit it a mile. With Turner, it's a hanging curveball. That simple. It's pitch execution."
Both home runs came on the first pitch of the at-bats, though Turner said the Dodgers stumbled upon that aggressive approach by accident.
"We were out on the line stretching about five minutes before the game and I asked Chase, I go, 'Hey, what are you thinking for tonight? Are we going to be aggressive?'" Turner said after the game. "And he says, 'I'm not going to swing at the first pitch, if that's what you're asking. But if I get to 1-0, I'm going to be aggressive.' And then Corey goes out there, jumps all over the first pitch and hits a homer, and I think that kind of set the tone for us."
Scherzer regrouped after Turner's home run, which made the score 4-0, retiring 10 of the final 11 batters he faced. In all, the righty struck out five Dodgers, allowed five hits and did not walk a batter in six innings.
Catcher Pedro Severino said Scherzer's slider wasn't at its best Friday, forcing the pitcher to rely more on his changeup and curveball, which he usually treats as secondary options.
"As soon as he started working with his breaking ball and his changeup," manager Dusty Baker said, "he was the Max that we know."
One of the leading NL Cy Young Award candidates, Scherzer was Washington's obvious choice for Game 1 after going 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA during the regular season, leading the league in innings (228 1/3) and strikeouts (284).
But the long ball has been Scherzer's nemesis all year. The righty throws hard and isn't afraid to pitch up in the zone, leaving him prone to home runs. He seemed to have the problem under control during the second half of the season (allowing only six homers over 15 outings at one point), but reverted back over his final three starts, serving up five dingers in 17 2/3 innings.
That trend continued Friday in an outing ultimately defined not by his good pitches but by two bad ones.
"I made some mistakes, and they cost me," Scherzer said. "Giving up those two home runs, I really feel like that was the difference in the ballgame. I take ownership of that and I'm accountable for that."
Alex Putterman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.