Oh so close

A day after witnessing the nauseating adulation heaped on the head of a cheater, I watched a no-hitter that came excruciatingly close to being a perfect game. And that’s why I can never quit baseball.

Not even when Alex Rodriguez receives a standing ovation after getting his 3,000th hit – a home run that would have been a flyout in any other ballpark in the league. Yes, A-Roid disgusts me, but mainly, he makes me sad. I drive by the looming white cross that marks the place he played high school baseball on a regular basis. Such rare talent. Such a shame.

Today, Washington pitcher Max Scherzer pitched a masterpiece in no-hitting Pittsburgh, coming within a ninth-inning, two-out hit batter of a perfect game. Brilliant as Scherzer was, and as covered in chocolate sauce (don’t ask me, it’s a Nats thing) as he ended up, his no-hitter leaves a slightly bad taste in my mouth. Jose Tabata, after a fine two-strike battle, made no effort to get out of the way of a pitch Scherzer’s adrenaline carried a bit up and in to become the game’s only baserunner.

Some will say it’s Tabata’s job to get on base, and that’s true, to an extent. The rarely enforced rule says it’s also his job to make an effort to get out of the way. I covered a college game in the NCAA regionals once when a player bunted to break up a no-hitter. The home crowd was enraged, but I saw no problem. The kid made a play. Sticking your padded elbow into the path of a ball you don’t intend to swing at is not making a play.

Scherzer’s smile was still huge after striking out 10 and allowing just 11 balls to leave the infield in his first career no-hitter. After dominating in Detroit for five seasons, Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nats, and he is shaping up to be a bargain. Adding in his last start against the Brewers, in which he struck out 16, he’s retired 54 of the last 57 batters he’s faced.

He also wears his passion for the game on his bright red sleeve. His face, as he fanned another or busted it down the first-base line, contorted with effort and excitement. In the seventh inning, nine outs away from perfection, he casually laid down a bunt to advance a runner who later scored. In the top of the eighth, when Danny Espinosa’s hard-charging throw got Pedro Alvarez by a step at first, Scherzer’s emphatic fist pump carried him into the dugout.

(Scherzer also has one blue and one brown eye, which is just cool. The condition is called heterochromia iridum, and it’s shared by, among others, Kate Bosworth, Dan Aykroyd, and Christopher Walken – as well as the dude who played John Abbott on Young and the Restless.)

Yesterday, I grudgingly watched Rodriguez become the 29th member of the 3,000-hit club. Today, my somewhat shriveled baseball heart pounded back to life as Scherzer chased perfection, and now, it beats strongly as Vin Scully’s voice once again fills my living room.

Baseball is always a beautiful game, even when it’s not quite perfect.