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The Mets’ nightmare scenario? It surfaced when Max Scherzer pulled himself out against the Cardinals

NEW YORK — It took Max Scherzer all of three seconds on Wednesday night to understand two things: He’d never before felt the pain in his left side that appeared after his 87th pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals. And his body would not allow him to throw another.

Scherzer would later describe the feeling as a “zing” in his left side. The Mets would call the issue “left side discomfort.” An MRI scheduled for Thursday morning will offer clarity on the nature and severity of the injury, but in the moments after an 11-4 victory over the Cardinals, the Mets were left grappling with the prospect of losing another ace for an undetermined length of time.

“I don’t think this is a major strain,” Scherzer said, offering a shred of optimism as he stood near his locker on Wednesday night. “Like I said, I was kind of tight, and all of a sudden it went. But I don’t feel like I really ripped it … I felt like it just got worse. Hopefully I got out of there quick enough to prevent a major injury here.”

The pitch in question had come in the top of the sixth inning as Scherzer faced the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols with runners at first and second and two out. Scherzer attempted to spin an 0-1 slider, felt something go in his side, then almost immediately turned toward the Mets dugout and issued the universal gesture for “cut it.”

“I’m done,” Scherzer said.

Scherzer said he had felt tightness in his side during the course of the game, though it was something he had pitched through before. Before exiting, he had allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings while striking out four. It was only on his final pitch of the game that he felt he could no longer continue.

“We don’t know exactly what the exact injury is,” Scherzer said. “But I’ve never had a left side injury before. So when I felt it, I just knew there was no way you could throw another pitch. So just get out of there.”

The Mets’ possible nightmare scenario comes with Jacob deGrom still on the 60-day injured list and seeking to return from a stress reaction in his scapula, which surfaced in the spring, and it comes with right-hander Tylor Megill on the injured list with a bout of biceps tendinitis. The Mets, 25-14, have weathered the storm in remarkable fashion, racing to the best record in the National League East, and they continued their streak of resilience Wednesday night, battering the Cardinals before and after Scherzer’s exit.

Pete Alonso keyed an 11-hit attack with his ninth home run — a three-run shot in the eighth — and tied Cleveland’s José Ramírez for the major-league lead with 33 RBIs. Jeff McNeil raised his average to .315 with two hits in five at-bats. But the prospect of losing Scherzer for any significant length of time overshadowed the proceedings, representing a mighty blow to a club that made the future Hall of Fame starter their centerpiece addition in a busy offseason. At best, it appears that Scherzer may need time to allow his left side “zing” to calm down. At worst, he could be facing a long stint on the injured list, and the Mets could be facing a major test of their rotation depth, especially with deGrom and Megill facing their own issues.

“I know obliques, intercostals, those things can be nasty,” Scherzer said, referencing two common muscle strains in baseball players. “Hopefully I avoided a serious injury.”

Scherzer, who will turn 38 in July, signed a three-year, $130 million contract in the offseason, representing the largest average annual outlay in major-league history. Up until Wednesday night, he had more than answered the bell, posting a 5-1 record with a 2.54 ERA and bringing his vaunted competitive fire to the Mets’ clubhouse. In the wake of the injury, Mets manager Buck Showalter tried to maintain a dispassionate exterior, stating the baseline facts. (“Max is a good pitcher,” he said, “[he] had to come out of the game.”) He did not offer any noticeable signs of immediate optimism.

“I’d like to have him,” Showalter said. “If we don’t, the season keeps going, right? They don’t wait for us. Ask Jake.”

If there was a reason for hope on Wednesday, it was in Scherzer’s history of self-evaluation when it comes to his own body. He has a history, he said, of pulling himself out of games when his body would not cooperate or he risked further injury. In the spring, he dealt with a hamstring issue that momentarily delayed the start of his season.

In 2019, he was famously scratched from a start in Game 5 of the World Series after suffering what the Nationals called severe irritation in a neck nerve and right trapezius muscle. Scherzer told reporters then that he woke up the morning of his start “completely locked up.” He later returned just days later to start Game 7 of that series, helping the Nationals to a World Series championship.

Scherzer had previously spent two stints on the injured list with back issues during the 2019 season — which is the only season since 2009 (other than the shortened 2020) that he has not made at least 30 starts. He later told reporters the back injuries were related to changes in his mechanics. Last postseason, when he was finishing a brief stint with the Dodgers as a rental player, he was scratched from a start with what he called an “over-cooked” arm. But Scherzer said he had never felt the issue that surfaced on Wednesday night. For the Mets, the uncertainty only resulted in additional concern.

“No idea right now,” Scherzer said. “I got to wake up tomorrow and get in an MRI tube to see the exact nature of what we got here. It’s foolish to even think anything.”

 (Photo: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)

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