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Max Scherzer’s setback shows nothing will come easy for Mets

Max Scherzer walking down the Citi Field tunnel, followed by a pitching coach and trainer, is not the image Mets fans were hoping to see five innings and 67 pitches deep into what was expected to be a slam-dunk event Saturday night.

Mad Max was supposed to finally nail down career victory No. 200 — after two failed attempts — against his former team, the MLB-worst Nationals, and nobody would have been surprised had he delivered eight special innings to mark the occasion, striking out hapless hitters left and right.

But disappear down that tunnel he did, with the score at 1-1, and by the time the Mets announced that Scherzer had departed with fatigue on his left side, they were just starting the process of losing by a 7-1 count. Of course, the loss didn’t matter half as much as the alarm bells ringing around the 38-year-old Scherzer, who missed nearly seven weeks earlier this season with an oblique injury on the same side.

That’s just another example that nothing is ever easy about baseball. Like golf, it is a sport built around failure and heartbreak, and it’s all but designed to bring you to your knees.

The bad news is the Braves beat the Marlins, cutting their NL East deficit to two games behind the Mets. The good news is Scherzer said that he expects to make his next start, and that he could’ve gone out for the sixth inning under different circumstances.

“I didn’t hurt myself,” he maintained. Mad Max had beaten himself to a pulp over his decision in May to try to pitch through his oblique tightness, calling it “unacceptable,” and he refused to repeat the mistake and then face the very teammates he would’ve let down.

Max Scherzer
Max Scherzer
N.Y. Post: Michelle Farsi

Scherzer said he first felt the fatigue in the fourth inning, and decided he had to take this precautionary move “especially where the calendar’s at. There’s no time left to re-ramp back up. … I just had to play it smart. There was just too much risk.”

Manager Buck Showalter had said before the game that his starter “does a great job separating the months” and understanding what each month is about. Scherzer then went out and proved he understood exactly what September baseball means for October baseball.

We will see if this setback impacts Scherzer in any meaningful way. Meanwhile, Showalter is always citing the baseball gods for a reason. If you want to make them laugh, the manager says, tell them about your plans.

At least the Mets aren’t unraveling like the Yankees.

And that schedule of theirs is still as soft as your favorite pillow.

Not that Showalter ever wants to talk about it. In fact, if you are not asking about the opponent standing directly in front of his team, he would rather spend double the time he’s already spent in U.S. Open traffic than engage the question.

Entering this holiday weekend series, the Mets were set to play 24 of their final 30 games against the Nationals, Pirates, Marlins, Cubs, and Athletics, teams that entered Saturday a combined 151 games below .500. Even though they still have to play a series at Atlanta (and one at Milwaukee), the Mets have been gifted the schedule maker’s version of a red carpet right onto the October stage.

Showalter’s face might turn redder than that carpet if someone were to bring that up. He’s forever talking about the need to respect every club, about the need to take nothing for granted. Showalter very much subscribes to the notion that the other guys are on scholarship too, no matter what the wins and losses say.

That’s why he acted taken aback when asked if the standings would dictate whether he gave a day of rest to a key player down the stretch.

“A day?” Showalter said. “Sure, if we got it clinched we’ll rest some people.”

The manager then rattled off the number of days off he has found for the Pete Alonsos and Francisco Lindors on the roster.

“We’re trying to win, right?” Showalter said. “I don’t foresee it being easy to get to. I don’t think Atlanta’s doing anything. I think Philadelphia’s right there too.”

Philadelphia was 11 ½ games behind the Mets when Showalter gave that response. It’s his job to worry about everything.

The Braves remain an ultra-legitimate and serious concern, for all the obvious reasons. The Mets just need to beat the bad teams often enough to hold Atlanta off.

Scherzer was in prime position against Washington to advance the cause. He has seen it all in baseball, and his experience should be an invaluable asset this month and beyond. Scherzer’s leadership, Showalter said, “is more by example.”

“And believe me, he’s got an opinion on it, and on what works and what doesn’t and what you’d better be ready for if we can get to that point where we’re in the playoffs. But he’s very, ‘I’ll show you. And if I need to tell you I will, but just watch.’ ”

Saturday night, the Mets could only watch the great Scherzer exit, stage left, after 67 pitches. Suddenly their schedule didn’t look quite as easy as it looked two hours earlier.

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