There is a method to Davey’s madness: leave him in.
Gonzalez’s line was impressive again, taking over the major league lead in strikeouts, momentarily, with 60 punch-outs courtesy of 10 strikeouts against Pittsburgh.
Leading 4-1, Gonzalez gave up a two-run shot to Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison. And the seemingly comfortable three-run advantage felt as rickety as a wooden bus stop bench after a 45-minute wait.
But manager Davey Johnson stuck with Gonzalez. After all, he’s been consistent the entire season. With a strikeout of Pirates pinch hitter Nate McLouth, Gonzalez got out of the inning and handed the ball over to the bullpen.
After Tyler Clippard allowed one run in the eighth, Johnson handed the ball to closer Henry Rodriguez, who had surrendered an anxiety-riddled two walk-off home runs last week (one to Rod Barajas and these very same Buccos).
Rodriguez had to endure an error by Ian Desmond that put Barajas (yes, that Barajas) on with no outs.
Working with a three-run lead, Rodriguez battled past Clint Barmes with a huge strikeout. Then he forced Harrison, who had smacked his first homer of the season in his last at-bat in the seventh, to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the game.
“When Desi booted that ball, my heart dropped a little bit,” Johnson said. “But Henry came right back and struck out the next hitter and got the double play. A very happy ending.”
Rodriguez recorded save No. 9. Johnson said that is what he has seen from his closer for most of the 14 games he has finished.
“He always looks good to me except when it is not getting close to the plate,” Johnson said. “I think that is when he tries to go into another gear and starts trying to do too much. That is typical with all young players.
“You just have to have confidence in them and I do. And the whole club does, really. Closing is not easy. I was going to have him in there in a one-run game. I didn’t want him to blow the save. I didn’t want that to even become a factor. But he was throwing good. I was pretty relaxed over there, considering.”
Johnson said he spoke to Rodriguez before the game and the young hurler was in good spirits, but the real test is when the need arises, does the manager still believe in his young arm?
“It doesn’t matter what I say to him before hand, (I still) call his name,” Johnson said. “He knows I call him because I have confidence in him. He was all smiles (as if to say,) ‘I’m with ya.’ Any time you put a guy’s name in the lineup, they know you have confidence in them.”
For Gonzalez, who went seven innings for his fifth win, it was a joy to sit back in the ninth and also exude confidence for the team’s exciting closer.
“We believe in Henry 100 percent,” Gonzalez said. “The only one that can beat Henry is himself. He has the ability to go out there and pound the strike zone. When he does, he is unbelievable to watch. To get that last double play, it is fun to watch.”