After the top of the sixth inning, Davey Johnson walked up to Gio Gonzalez and told him he was done for the night.
The Nationals’ starter wasn’t thrilled with that decision.
“Gio worked up a big anger on me,” Johnson said with a smile. “And once we got the runs to go ahead, he forgave me.”
The Rays had tied things up at 2-2 in the top of the sixth. But the Nationals immediately responded, scoring two runs in the bottom half of the frame on Danny Espinosa’s two-out double, which served as the game-winning hit and made Gonzalez a winner.
Making the hit all the more meaningful for Espinosa was that it came from the left side of the plate, where he’s struggled so mightily this season, hitting .188 against righties in 2012 entering today.
“I thought he’s been swinging the bat, really, pretty good from the left side,” Johnson said. “He’s made a few adjustments to where he feels like he’s getting to the ball a little quicker. Even when he’s bad, he’s still a very dangerous hitter. He seems to shine in tough situations, RBI situations. He did last year, and it’s really been no different this year. He’s been more selective, and I think that’s the best part.
“Early on, they just crowded the heck out of him. Now he’s shown he can get at some of those pitches. I don’t see as big of holes batting left-handed.”
The hit gave Espinosa 13 RBIs on the season in 204 plate appearances from the left side of the plate. From the right side, he has eight RBIs in just 65 plate appearances.
“Sometimes it just takes a little time, patience,” Johnson said. “I know he has the talent and the ability. I just try not to put too much pressure on him, whether from (the media) or me or anybody else. Everybody that ever sees him play realizes what kind of talent he is. He’s just going to through some rough times, but he’ll be fine.”
Things were made interesting in the seventh when Craig Stammen and Mike Gonzalez combined to load the bases on three walks, but Ryan Mattheus ended the frame with a dramatic strikeout of Will Rhymes on a 3-2 pitch.
Yet again, the dynamic duo of Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard closed it out in the eighth and ninth, putting up two perfect innings. With Drew Storen and Henry Rodriguez injured and Brad Lidge gone, those two guys have been huge this season.
“I like to have a backup closer,” Johnson said. “I’ve got backups to backups to backups. And the thing is, generally it’s hard to find that guy because some guys don’t like to be in that ninth-inning situation. My guys seem to revel in it.”