Chris Snyder, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ starting catcher on April 29, 2008, was known for being chatty behind the plate during games. So when his friend Jack Cassel, the Houston Astros’ starting pitcher that day, came to bat in the third inning, Snyder asked Cassel about his younger brother, Matt, the backup quarterback to Tom Brady on the New England Patriots in the N.F.L.
But when Cassel noticed a 23-year-old pitcher fresh out of the bullpen making his major-league debut and reaching 96 miles per hour in his warm-up on the mound, he politely asked Snyder to zip it.
“I forgot exactly what I said but I was like, ‘Don’t talk to me this at-bat. I got to lock it in,’” Cassel recalled in a phone interview. “The velocity was registering up on the board at Chase Field. And I could also see it myself because I didn’t throw that hard.”
After six pitches — the last a fastball blown past the overmatched pitcher — Cassel became very first major leaguer to be struck out by the Diamondbacks’ top prospect at the time, Max Scherzer.
There is little shame in getting dispatched from the plate by Scherzer, now 37. Throughout a career that has spanned 14 seasons, four teams, eight All-Star Game selections, three Cy Young Awards and one World Series title, Scherzer is one of the elite pitchers of this, or any, generation and has embarrassed many hitters with his powerful right arm.
And in an 8-0 victory against the San Diego Padres on Sunday in Los Angeles, Scherzer was at his best, sending batter after batter back to the dugout muttering to themselves. Scherzer, the Dodgers’ ace, threw an immaculate nine-pitch, three-strikeout second inning and flirted with a perfect game. In the fifth inning, with a punch-out of first baseman Eric Hosmer, Scherzer joined baseball’s 3,000-strikeout club.
Hosmer, though, got a bit of revenge by breaking up Scherzer’s bid at a perfect game with a one-out double in the eighth inning.
Although he couldn’t notch a second historic feat in the same game, Scherzer became the 19th person to reach 3,000 strikeouts, a club that includes Hall of Famers like Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins. Pitching like a player still in his prime, Scherzer may continue climbing the major-league career strikeouts list, which is topped by Nolan Ryan, who pitched until he was 46 and struck out an outrageous 5,714 batters.
“There’s not too many people who have reached this milestone,” Scherzer said. “It’s an awesome thing to accomplish. I love strikeouts and, to me, this is a testament to durability.”
In an era of baseball defined by more velocity, more movement on pitches and more strikeouts, few have been better than Scherzer. Of the pitchers with at least 1,000 innings since the start of the 2012 season, he led all with a strikeout rate of nearly 32 percent entering Sunday. Nicknamed “Mad Max” and known for a meticulous workout and running regimen, Scherzer has maintained an average fastball velocity around 94 m.p.h. at this age.
“He was destined for it,” Dodgers star outfielder Mookie Betts said of Scherzer’s strikeout achievement. “All the work he puts in, who he is, everything that he does. It sounds kind of weird, but I expect nothing less from him.”
Scherzer’s career arc can be traced through his strikeouts. A first-round pick of the Diamondbacks out of the University of Missouri in 2006, he reached the majors two years later. In Scherzer’s debut, Edgar Gonzalez started for the Diamondbacks, but after Gonzalez coughed up six runs, Scherzer came in from the bullpen.
With the Diamondbacks trailing by 6-2, Scherzer inherited a runner on second base with two outs in the third inning. Cassel, then 27, knew of Scherzer’s reputation as a hard-throwing youngster but felt good after smacking a single in his previous at-bat against Gonzalez. Soon, Cassel saw he was in trouble.
“He had this unorthodox delivery — his front side went high, the arm came around and it wasn’t straight over the top, more like three-quarters,” Cassel said. “He hid the ball well. With that arm angle and with that velocity, I could see why this guy was good.”
Cassel moved back in the batter’s box and choked up on the bat, hoping to make up for his slower bat speed and poke the ball into right field. It helped once: After two balls, taking a strike and whiffing at another offering, Cassel fouled off the fifth pitch. Then Scherzer rocketed a 96 m.p.h. fastball past Cassel’s bat with his ferocious head-snapping delivery.
“I got a piece of him,” Cassel said of the foul ball, laughing. “That was something to hang my hat on, I guess.”
In all, Scherzer tossed four and one-third perfect innings of relief, setting a major league record for a pitcher making his debut as a reliever by retiring 13 consecutive batters. He struck out seven.
Worried that Scherzer’s manner of throwing may lead to injuries, the Diamondbacks traded him to the Detroit Tigers ahead of the 2010 season. There, Scherzer overcame a brief demotion to the minor leagues, added a curveball and become more of a strikeout threat, helping the Tigers reach the 2012 World Series and winning the 2013 American League Cy Young Award.
Scherzer joined the Washington Nationals before the 2015 season on a seven-year $210-million deal that he turned into a bargain. Using his intellect and raging competitiveness to find new ways to get better each year, he carried the Nationals for the next six and a half years. (He once pitched with a broken nose and black eye sustained during batting practice.)
In 2015, he threw two no-hitters. In 2016 and 2017, he won back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards. On May 11, 2016, Scherzer tied Kerry Wood, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson for the major-league record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game with 20. And in October 2019, he guided the Nationals to their first World Series title.
From 2015 to 2019, Scherzer averaged 210 innings and 274 strikeouts, while posting a 2.74 earned run average and a 79-39 record. He has bounced back from a down year in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, during which he posted a 3.74 E.R.A., and is now making a late-season push for his fourth Cy Young Award.
Out of playoff contention, the Nationals traded him to the defending World Series champion Dodgers before the July 30 trade deadline. Scherzer, also a top players’ union representative, has a 0.88 E.R.A. and 72 strikeouts, including nine on Sunday, with his new team. They have won all eight of his starts and saw him come within five outs of a perfect game on Sunday.
After notching his 3,000th strikeout, Scherzer quickly acknowledged the standing ovation from the Dodger Stadium crowd — which included his parents, wife and children — by raising his cap high above his head. But in his typical fashion, he didn’t smile, too focused on the game, and he got right back to work.
“When you win awards or you accomplish a milestone, it usually takes a year to fully appreciate what that means in the context of everything,” Scherzer said. “Hopefully I keep pitching and keep dreaming up new things to do, and hopefully you get more perspective and appreciate the history of this more a year from now.”
Watching from afar, Cassel, now 41 and an executive with Nasdaq who lives in California, has enjoyed watching Scherzer’s major-league career evolve since that very first strikeout. So have his two sons, who have Scherzer baseball cards. One has a Scherzer jersey.
“It’s just great to see his career progress,” said Cassel, who appeared in 15 games for the Padres and Astros in 2007 and 2008. “I’d seen it early and there’s a lot of good, talented guys that get to play the game, so it’s always fun to watch the ones that make it. That’s been a cool part with Scherzer specifically, just watching him continue to compete and, even with age, continue to get better at his craft.”
Not long ago, Cassel said he got a text message from a friend informing him that old footage of Cassel pitching was on M.L.B. Network. Wondering which game that could possibly be given his brief career, Cassel saw that the channel was airing Scherzer’s major-league debut, and thus he was also on TV.
“I’m Mr. Nobody and here’s a Hall of Famer,” he said. “I take it as a compliment to be associated with him and be on that same field with him. I’m a fan of his and what he’s done with his career and for the game.”
Cassel said he recorded the replay of the 2008 game and showed it to his children, teaching them the lesson of learning from failure, particularly in a sport full of it. Even now, he laughs about the strikeout versus Scherzer. He clearly isn’t alone.
Boxer Manny Pacquiao Joins Filipino Presidential Race
MANILA — Former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao has shuffled his way into the presidential race in the Philippines.
Mr. Pacquiao, the country’s best-known athlete, already holds a seat in the Senate but faces tough opposition as a presidential candidate. He was formerly the president of the PDP-Laban, the ruling party in the Philippines, before being ousted by a faction loyal to President Rodrigo Duterte, whose government Mr. Pacquiao has accused of corruption.
“To government officials who continue to rob government coffers, you will soon find others in jail,” Mr. Pacquiao warned on Sunday when he announced his candidacy. “Your time is up.”
The constitution bars Mr. Duterte from seeking a second six-year term in the May election. He has instead said he would run for vice president, in what some analysts have described as an attempt to avoid prosecution from the International Criminal Court. The I.C.C. last week announced an investigation into Mr. Duterte’s antidrug campaign, which critics have said was marred by extrajudicial killings.
Christopher Lawrence Go, a senator and Mr. Duterte’s longtime aide, was considered a party favorite for the presidential nomination, but he has yet to announce his candidacy. The president and the vice president are elected separately in the Philippines. If both men were to win, analysts said, Mr. Go could step aside for Mr. Duterte or let him rule the country by proxy, allowing him to escape prosecution.
Sara Duterte, the president’s daughter and the mayor of Davao City, said she would not seek the presidency if her father continued with his plans to run for vice president.
All candidate must submit their final filings in October.
Mr. Pacquiao, 42, signaled a break with Mr. Duterte earlier this year when he accused the government’s health department of corruption tied to the coronavirus pandemic and the purchasing of face masks and other protective equipment. The senator, who as a boxer won world titles in a record eight weight classes, was once an ally of Mr. Duterte, but recently became more critical of the president.
“We are ready to rise to the challenge of leadership,” Mr. Pacquiao said on Sunday when he accepted the nomination from his faction of the party.
“It is now time for the oppressed to win,” he said. “It is now time for the country to rise up from poverty.”
Aries Arugay, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said that he was not surprised by Mr. Pacquiao’s announcement but that the boxer may be in over his head. While Mr. Pacquiao is internationally recognized, “he is not ready” to be president, Mr. Arugay said, adding that Mr. Pacquiao had not passed any major legislation.
“His performance at the Senate was underwhelming,” he said. “However, that has not prevented people and politicians in the past from winning public office.”
Mr. Pacquiao has also been a vocal supporter of Mr. Duterte’s bloody antidrug campaign.
The Commission on Elections will have to settle the matter of the separate factions of the PDP-Laban before the final candidacies are filed in October. If Mr. Duterte’s faction emerges with a clear mandate, Mr. Pacquiao will likely step aside or run as an independent, chipping away at Mr. Duterte’s chances of regaining public office, Mr. Arugay said.
Melvin Matibag, the general secretary of PDP-Laban and the leader of the pro-Duterte wing of the party, said that Mr. Pacquiao was acting against the party’s wishes by announcing his candidacy.
The meeting on Sunday during which Mr. Pacquiao announced his candidacy was “not sanctioned nor called by the party’s chairman, President Duterte,” Mr. Matibag said Monday on national radio.
In a Scheduling First, Pac-12 and SWAC Plan Home-and-Home Basketball Games
Pac-12 leaders similarly welcomed the home-and-home agreement, which Bernard Muir, Stanford’s athletic director, predicted would “open our eyes and our fan bases to an opportunity that we don’t traditionally get.”
“Certainly, there’s games that occur between Power 5s and H.B.C.U.s, but to do this across the board in both conferences, I think it’s really unique,” he said.
Dana Altman, Oregon’s coach since 2010, said he expected the trips to become important learning experiences for players in the two leagues. In an interview, he recalled a 1999 trip to Mississippi Valley State, in Itta Bena, Miss., with one of his Creighton teams as revelatory.
“It was good at the time, just that our guys went to a small campus in a very small town,” said Altman, who once had Florida A&M’s coach, Robert McCullum, on his staff at Oregon. “I think this trip will be good for our players, especially when they learn about the school and get some of the history of the school.”
Some SWAC schools, officials said, are considering playing their home games under the arrangement at bigger, off-campus arenas in their areas.
Although the SWAC commands large home crowds for football games — the most of any conference outside the Power 5 or Group of 5 leagues that dominate Division I football — it has struggled to draw audiences for men’s basketball. For the 2019-20 season, the league ranked 29th of the 32 Division I conferences in home basketball attendance, and its schools averaged fewer than 1,600 people per home game.
The Pac-12’s schools, by contrast, typically drew more than 7,000 fans per game.
Jason Cable, the athletic director at Alabama State, said U.S.C.’s appearance there in 2023 would be the university’s most significant nonconference game at home in memory. He said that the exposure and opportunity would be valuable to a university like Alabama State, the lone Division I school in Montgomery, and he predicted that those benefits would outweigh the value of a check that would be earned through another road trip.
The Mannings Give TV Sports Yet Another Alternate Viewing Option
“We really lean into a specific driver for a little bit longer, and it creates a stronger bond between the driver and audience,” Flood said.
If the future of sports watching is fans choosing exactly the kind of announcer or experience they want, why not take the idea further? Amazon, which shows N.F.L. games on Thursdays and owns the rights for a number of different sports in Europe, already provides several different commentary streams for those games.
But Amazon also owns Twitch, the streaming platform most heavily associated with video games — where at any given moment you can find thousands of people, some of them professionals with a huge audience and some of them amateurs with no audience, commenting while playing video games or doing other things. Amazon has shown some games on Twitch with handpicked and hired hosts, but it is not a free-for-all open to thousands of different commentators.
For one, there is a rights issue. The N.F.L. sells Amazon the right to do very specific things, which does not include allowing anybody who wants to comment on games on Twitch, and therefore allow anybody to watch on Twitch and bypass traditional ways of viewing.
But even if they could do so, Marie Donoghue, the head of global sports at Amazon, is not sure they would want to. “We don’t know if infinite choice is what fans want,” she said. “We do think fans want great optionality, but we have to learn, because if you give fans infinite choice it may become overwhelming, and they get lost in the experience.”
Infinite may not be on the horizon then, but more certainly is.
Next year, when Amazon actually produces the N.F.L. games they show, there will almost certainly be more options. Meier said Triller was getting ready to “rock the world with a completely new concept” in boxing, while Rolón said ESPN would expand its alternate telecasts as technology allowed it to do so.