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Max Scherzer takes Harper’s spot on throne

March 27, 2019

The former king of Nationals Park has left town. He was a monarch who never truly ruled, though. An emperor more consumed with clothes and colors and styles than connecting with subjects.

Bryce Harper, who abdicated the throne in D.C., will serve out a self-imposed, 13-year exile in Philadelphia, where he will soon understand that the fans themselves are the true masters. And the king serves at the fans’ behest.

Now the realm belongs to Max Scherzer, who will take the mound Thursday afternoon on Opening Day at Nationals Park against his rival Cy Young winner from last season, the New York Mets’ Jacob deGrom.

This is Scherzer’s baseball kingdom now long live King Max. There can be no confusion about that anymore. The Nationals ace is the star fans can proudly claim as their own at least for the next four years of the seven-year contract he signed to play in Washington.

Scherzer came here in 2015 and embraced the city in a way Harper never did. Sure, it was easier for him. After all, Scherzer was 30 years old and seasoned in the ways of major league baseball. Harper was a kid just barely above high school age.

Scherzer was getting paid $215 million to come here. Harper was working his way through the baseball ladder of compensation to get to the point where he could land the kind of contract Scherzer had. In Harper’s seven years in a Nationals uniform, he made $47 million. And when it was time for the Nationals to give him a raise, he was offered $300 million to stay no matter what disinformation campaign Harper and the Hand of the King, Scott Boras, have conducted.

It always felt like Harper had one foot out the door from the moment he arrived in the District. He has criticized the local media and fans during his Philadelphia fairy tales, implying that everyone drove him out of town by constantly wondering if he would stay in Washington. But the slugger distanced himself as the years went by. And, after all, Boras was his agent. What other conclusion would people reach other than an eventual exit?

Whatever the circumstances of his arrival, Scherzer has become Washington baseball royalty. He is the millionaire who takes part in the Nationals Winterfest year after year, the event Harper generally blew off. He is the Missouri-born ballplayer who showed up with Ryan Zimmerman in the stands at Capital One Arena dressed in Washington Capitals hockey gear leading, “Let’s Go Caps” chants in the Stanley Cup Finals. Harper hid in a luxury box wearing a Vegas Golden Knights jersey.

Harper will embrace Philadelphia like it’s a giant porcupine.

King Max will take his place on the throne Thursday, with appreciative subjects ready to show their love in the season opener. He has built up a loyal following with deeds on the field as well as his goodwill off. Scherzer has compiled a record of 68-32 in his four seasons here, with two National League Cy Young awards and just missing out on a third last year to deGrom.

Harper had noteworthy moments on the field as well stealing home in his first home weekend against the Phillies in 2012, his multiple Opening Day home runs, among them. But his lasting legacy may perfectly define the Harper reign in Washington a thrilling, exciting, but exhibition event, the All-Star Game Home Run Derby win, last July.

The Harper reign was built on promise false promise, as it turns out.

Scherzer hasn’t brought championship glory to the land, either. But his defining moments in real games wound up as artifacts in Cooperstown, where he may likely take his place someday perhaps as the first true Nationals representative in the Hall of Fame.

His start Thursday ties him for first place with Stephen Strasburg in the Nationals’ short history of opening day starts with four. King Max prepared for this day by striking out 12 Miami Marlins in his last spring training start.

“I’ve been thinking about it the whole spring,” Scherzer told reporters. “You’re designing everything to be ready opening day.”

A kingdom awaits.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.