The frustration could have been palpable. Max Scherzer, in his first start for the Mets since Sept. 3, was perfect through six innings on the road in Milwaukee, but his day was already done.
With the Mets hoping for a deep October run, Manager Buck Showalter pulled Scherzer from his bid at ending baseball’s decade-long streak without a perfect game. And Showalter did it despite Scherzer’s having thrown only 68 pitches.
It was the type of sensible but excruciating decision that tends to rile up fans. And the bid at baseball’s first combined perfect game unraveled immediately, as the reliever Tylor Megill allowed a leadoff double to Christian Yelich in the seventh and a two-run homer to Rowdy Tellez two batters later.
But after the dust settled, the Mets walked away with a 7-2 victory. That wins meant they had clinched their first postseason berth since 2016, and allowed Scherzer, in his return from the injured list, had become the 120th pitcher to reach 200 wins for his career.
“This is what you play the game for — you play the game to go to the postseason,” Scherzer told reporters after the game. “We have a lot of things in front of us and we understand that. But, man, you’ve got to celebrate the good times, too.”
With the Mets securing at least a wild-card spot in the playoffs, Scherzer’s personal milestone seemed like an afterthought. Plenty of pitchers had reached the 200-win mark before him, and many of them weren’t particularly notable. But with modern bullpen usage making wins for starters far harder to come by, Scherzer and two of his peers who are nearing the mark — Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers — could be the last pitchers to get to 200 for quite some time.
Currently, Scherzer’s 200 wins put him third on the active list behind Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros (243) and Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals (223). Wainwright is fourth at 195, just ahead of Kershaw at 193.
There is a fairly steep drop-off after that group. David Price of the Dodgers is at 157, but at 37 he is now an often-injured reliever and is unlikely to add many more victories to his résumé. Johnny Cueto of the Chicago White Sox is 36 and has 142 wins, most likely putting him out of reach. Madison Bumgarner of the Arizona Diamondbacks is only 33, and has 133 wins, but he has not managed more than nine wins in a season since 2016.
That leaves the next most likely candidate after Wainwright and Kershaw to be Gerrit Cole of the Yankees, who is 32, plays for a team that scores a lot of runs, and already has 129 wins. But even Cole will likely need four or five more seasons to get there. After Cole, it gets far murkier as to who might reach the milestone.
Wins being harder to accumulate makes sense. In an analytics-driven era when strikeouts are king, getting through the required five innings to even qualify for a win can be difficult without running up a pitch count.
And managers do not take chances once that pitch count starts to rise. Only three pitchers this season have been allowed to throw as many as 120 pitches in a single game after only five got to that number last season. For reference, in 1988, the first year in which Baseball Reference has accurate pitch counts, there were 598 games in which a starting pitcher threw 120 or more pitches despite there being four fewer teams in Major League Baseball at the time.
The cruel thing with Scherzer, though, and with Kershaw before him in a similar start back in April, is that both of them had been remarkably efficient and seemingly had a chance of finishing off their perfect game bids without running up their pitch counts. But the bids happened to come in starts where the veteran pitchers were coming back from injuries, which made their managers even more conservative than they might have been otherwise.
Even when the situation is not as cut-and-dried, pushing a starter in hopes of getting him an individual accomplishment has largely become a thing of the past. It is sound reasoning even if it can be difficult to stomach in the moment. And it is the same logic that has made the 200-win club, once a mark for a fairly good but not great starter to strive for, suddenly exclusive.
But for the Mets, any frustration felt for Scherzer seemed to have melted away thanks to the team having guaranteed a trip to the postseason. And with baseball’s new postseason format allowing the top two seeds in each league to skip the wild-card round, there is still plenty to play for this season despite their postseason ticket having been punched.
“We understand this is not the end goal, but it’s part of our destiny,” said shortstop Francisco Lindor.