WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer struck out 20, matching the major-league record for a nine-inning game as he pitched the Nationals past the Tigers 3-2 Wednesday night.
Scherzer had a chance to break the mark when James McCann stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning. McCann grounded to third base for the final out.
The breathtaking performance came in Scherzer's first outing against the Tigers, his former team. The right-hander, who pitched two no-hitters for Washington last season and struck out 17 in the second, joined Roger Clemens (twice), Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to compile 20 strikeouts in nine innings.
"I think it was about the eighth inning when I punched out somebody and they said that was 18, that was the first time I heard the number, so I knew I had a shot at going out for the ninth and 20," said Scherzer, who did not issue a walk.
The 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner gave up a leadoff homer to J.D. Martinez in the ninth, then blew a 97 mph fastball by slugger Miguel Cabrera for No. 19.
Victor Martinez singled before Scherzer got Justin Upton swinging at a low slider. McCann grounded an 0-and-1 pitch to third baseman Anthony Rendon.
"Had to go through some tough, tough hitters there with Miggy and J.D. and Victor and all those guys over there," Scherzer said. "Those guys are unbelievable, and they gave me a heck of a time tonight. But to be able to do it against them, it's a feather in the cap."