WASHINGTON - The Pittsburgh Pirates couldn't stop Max Scherzer from pitching a no-hitter. Pinch-hitter Jose Tabata's elbow got in the way of a perfect game.
Scherzer came agonizingly close to perfection, plunking Tabata with two strikes and two outs in the ninth inning Saturday in the Washington Nationals' 6-0 win over the Pirates.
Masterful in retiring the first 26 hitters, Scherzer nearly threw the 22nd perfect game in major league history since 1900. He struck out 10 in his second straight dominant performance.
"You need to find it in your baseball heart to appreciate that performance," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Scherzer (8-5) retired Josh Harrison on a deep fly to left for the final out and was swallowed up by jubilant teammates near the mound.
What transpired one batter prior ended Scherzer's bid for pitching's ultimate achievement.
Tabata fouled off three 2-2 pitches before Scherzer clipped him on the elbow with a slider. Tabata seemed to drop his elbow protector as the pitch approached, and Scherzer immediately grimaced after plunking him.
"He tried to throw me a slider inside," Tabata said. "The slider, no breaking. I stayed right there and it got me."
"That's my job. I got to get on base whatever the situation," he said.
The Nationals' ace admitted there was a bit of a letdown after hitting Tabata.
"I mean there is, just because you're so close, one strike away from a perfect game," Scherzer said. "But to get a no-hitter in front of these fans, there's nothing better."
Hurdle, who played 10 seasons in the majors in addition to his lengthy coaching career, couldn't come up with a better pitched game he's witnessed in person.
"It very well could be," Hurdle said of Scherer's gem. "The stuff was dynamic. Fastball played all day. The command was there, the breaking ball very sharp. Execution. He made us swing the bat."
In the eighth, shifted second baseman Danny Espinosa barely threw out Pedro Alvarez from shallow right field to end the inning.
Leading off the ninth, third baseman Anthony Rendon ran hard to catch a foul pop by Gregory Polanco, and wound up bent over the dugout railing.
Francisco Liriano (4-6), who threw a no-hitter in 2011, took the loss. He held Washington to one through five innings before allowing four in the sixth. Clearly that was far too many against Scherzer.
"He just goes out there and battles," Liriano said. "Makes good pitches when he needs to. Unfortunately it happened against us today."
Bryce Harper hit his 23rd homer and drove in two runs. The Nationals star had missed two games after straining his hamstring.
In his previous start, Scherzer took a perfect game into the seventh at Milwaukee and finished with a one-hitter and 16 strikeouts. The lone hit was a leadoff single by Carlos Gomez just beyond reach of Rendon, who was playing second base.
Scherzer threw 106 pitches, 82 for strikes. He was throwing fastballs in the upper 90s mph and had a wicked slider.
The Pirates twice hit balls to the warning track in his first time through the order.
Pirates RHP Charlie Morton (5-0, 1.62) has won all of his starts this season. He'll pitch Sunday against Gio Gonzalez (4-4, 4.82).
This was the sixth no-hitter vs. the Pirates, and the first since Homer Bailey did it for the Reds in 2012.
Pirates: Polanco returned to the lineup Saturday. He left Friday night's game in the seventh inning after banging into the right-field wall trying to make a catch. "I think the wind got knocked out of him, which caught his attention more than anything," Hurdle said. ...2B Neil Walker missed his third consecutive game with a stomach illness.