With left-hander Gio Gonzalez on the mound, it appeared it would be difficult for the light-hitting Chicago Cubs offense to generate much in the way of runs.
Or even hits.
Gonzalez was on target Wednesday, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning, and finishing with seven shutout innings, on three hits, no walks and striking out nine. The Nationals allowed only four hits in the 9-1 dispatch of the Cubs.
Gonzalez matched the Mets' R.A. Dickey for the major-league lead with win No. 18. The 18 wins continued the modern day record for wins by Nationals pitcher in a season. The last D.C.-based pitcher to win this many games in a season was Bob Porterfield in 1953 with 22.
Manager Davey Johnson said Gonzalez was extra motivated because he allowed four runs on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings April 7 in his Nationals' debut from Wrigley Field in a game the Nationals would eventually would come back and win, 7-4. Gonzalez left with a no decision.
"I think he had a score to settle with them," Johnson said. "Early on, I think they hit him pretty good. He changed that around a little bit. That was outstanding. (He had a) great curve ball, used it, threw some good changes, of course, he has that explosive fastball."
This is almost a completely different ball club than that Cubs team from the opening week with six different starters from the nine he faced that day.
"Davey said that then that is Davey's words, not mine," Gonzalez chuckled. "My words is more that I wanted to go out there and pound the strike zone."
Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney slapped a single to begin the sixth, ending the potential no-hit bid. The crowd of 21,244 at Nationals Park gave Gonzalez a round of applause for job well done.
Johnson said he probably would not have let Gonzalez go the full nine because he just came off a complete game.
"It was about the number of pitches, I didn't want him to go quite that far," Johnson said. "When he went the complete game, he threw 119. I still (would have) hooked him. He might have fought me. It depended on how he was throwing."
Gonzalez said the no-hitter was really not on his mind at the time.
"Not really," Gonzalez said. "I wanted to go out there and attack the zone. They were making great plays for me all night. It was one of those things where you go out there and just keep pitching. You wanted your guys to come back in and swing the bat as soon as possible."
Gonzalez continued to pitch well with former teammate Kurt Suzuki behind the dish, calling a good game.
"He knows how to mix it up," Gonzalez said. "He knows how to call a great game, in and out. That one moment in the seventh when (pitching coach Steve McCatty) came up to me it was just a little smirk that I had to crack because they were both attacking me. I had to tell them back off, get off my mount already. It was one of those situations I wanted to go out there and finish strong not only for the team but for the D.C. fans."
Gonzalez improved to 18-7, and his ERA plummeted below 3.00 to 2.98. Second baseman Danny Espinosa said what makes Gonzalez unique is how he never lets up, even on days when his pitches aren't hitting every spot. That wasn't a concern Wednesday.
"He has been great," Espinosa said. "He goes out there and competes, whether he has got his stuff or not, he is a competitor and that is what I love about him. He was throwing strikes tonight, his breaking pitches were working really well. So when he has confidence in that breaking pitch he is pretty untouchable."