WASHINGTON - Getaway day at Nationals Park featured a pitching mismatch, career minor-leaguer Austin Bibens-Dirkx against two-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.
After two Washington Nationals batters, it appeared a mismatch might play out.
Homer. Single. A .341 hitter coming up.
But this is baseball, where the unexpected happens each day and where every player in a big-league uniform is capable of doing something great.
That’s what Bibens-Dirkx did for the Texas Rangers.
Bibens-Dirkx allowed only one run on three hits in seven innings and at one point retired 19 consecutive batters before the Rangers broke through with a four-run eighth inning en route to a 5-1 victory and a three-game sweep.
Elvis Andrus delivered the big hit, a two-run triple, and Shin-Soo Choo provided the Rangers with an early run against Scherzer with a solo shot in the third.
Sunday, though, was ABD Day.
“That’s great feeling,” Bibens-Dirks said. “One out at a time. Being another spot start, I’m just trying to get as many outs before they take the ball from me. That’s what I did today. I guess it was quite a few.”
The 19 in a row is a club rookie record. The streak broke the mark of 18 done by four pitchers, most recently Matt Harrison in 2008. But it didn’t look like Bibens-Dirkx would get two in a row out.
Brian Goodwin started with a leadoff homer, and Bryce Harper followed the a single on a first-pitch fastball. Bibens-Dirkx and catcher Jonathan Lucroy then started mixing in different pitches, believing that Nationals’ game plan was to attack fastballs.
The next batter was Daniel Murphy, one of the National League’s top hitters. He rolled into a double play, and Anthony Rendon bounced out to end the inning. The Nationals didn’t have another base runner until Rendon singled with two outs in the seventh inning.
“He threw a lot of strikes and threw pitches,” Lucroy said. “I felt like against these guys you’ve got to call a pretty unconventional game against them. They’re a pretty good hitting team. In order to keep them off-balance, you have to mix a lot.”
The Nationals threatened against him in the seventh, when Rendon singled with two outs and Adam Lind drew the only walk issued by a Rangers pitcher. After a mound visit designed to let a tiring Bibens-Dirkx catch his breath, he threw a curveball that Matt Wieters grounded to first.
Only an afternoon earlier, Bibens-Dirkx had told his wife and friends that, “I have to face Scherzer.” They responded, “No, you get to face Scherzer.”
That helped him realize that he belongs on the same field and had earned the right to be on the mound against on of the game’s top pitchers.
“I was able to be successful today and beat one of the best guys in the game,” Bibens-Dirkx said.
Choo countered the Goodwin homer in the third with two-out shot of Scherzer, who retired 14 of the next 15 batters as a pitching duel settled in. But Rendon bobbled a Delino DeShields grounder with one out in the eighth, opening the flood gates.
The Rangers scored four times on only one hit. They took advantage of an error on Rendon on a Delino DeShields grounder, and Jurickson Profar drew a walk after falling behind in the count 0-2.
That ended Scherzer’s day and brought in lefty specialist Oliver Perez, who promptly walked Choo on four straight pitches to load the bases. Blake Treinen then entered, and his first pitch got away from Wieters and DeShields raced home with the go-ahead run.
Later in the at-bat Andrus sent a bounder over third and into the left-field corner as Profar and Choo scored.
Nomar Mazara followed with a sacrifice fly, Jose Leclerc and Alex Claudio tossed a perfect inning apiece, and the Rangers backed their bags for Houston with momentum on their side.
“When we talk about confidence, momentum, belief, they never waver in those categories,” manager Jeff Banister said. “What it does do is it puts fill up that pitcher of confidence and resilience these guys play off. They’re momentum-type guys.”
Bibens-Dirks delivered much of the momentum Sunday by outdueling Scherzer.
“A very gutsy performance by Austin going against a premier pitcher in Major League Baseball,” Banister said. “Soft contact really all day long. He kept these guys off-balance all day.”
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