Over the last two nights, the Nationals have outscored the defending World Series champion Cardinals 18-1.
A dormant offense has come alive. The top-notch starting pitching has returned, as have the smiles.
Tonight, it was Gio Gonzalez wearing the smile for the Nats. To be truthful, Gonzalez always wears the smile, but tonight it was well-earned. The lefty threw the first shutout of his career, allowing just five hits and three walks over his nine sterling innings, striking out eight.
“What a great effort,” manager Davey Johnson said simply.
Gonzalez retired the first nine Cardinals hitters he faced, but he was really able to start cruising in the middle innings thanks to some early run support. The Nats hit up Adam Wainwright for six runs over 2 2/3, and Gonzalez settled in with the big lead, getting double play balls in the fourth, sixth and seventh.
Even though he told Johnson that he might be ready to come out of the game after eight, Johnson stuck with Gonzalez for the ninth, and he delivered yet another scoreless inning despite the fact his pitch count reached a season-high 119.
“I’m always complaining about I need to go out there and keep pitching, keep pitching. My pitch count doesn’t matter,” Gonzalez said. “And finally when I step it up and tell him, ‘That’s it, I’m good with eight,’ Davey goes, ‘I don’t want to hear it, you’re going out there.’
“So I said I’m going to give it one more good inning and these guys made great plays for me. They gave me motivation and the fans kept chanting my name, so they just boosted me up even more.”
The chants of, “Let’s go, Gio!” filled Nats Park as Gonzalez prepared to face his final couple of hitters. Immediately after the game, he got hit with a Gatorade shower and a shaving cream pie, and again flashed his trademark smile after both.
“Man, it was just one of those things were you can’t explain it,” Gonzalez said of hearing the crowd chanting in the ninth. “It felt like it was a boost of energy, kind of like having a Red Bull right there in the ninth.”
Luckily for Gonzalez, his dominating effort came with his family in town from Florida to watch it. Gonzalez’s ever-vocal mother sat behind the plate and made sure her son could hear her.
“Imagine seeing (catcher Kurt Suzuki’s) face, then the umpire, then my mom. It was like, ‘Uh-oh, can’t disappoint you, ma,’ ” Gonzalez said. “You could hear every at-bat, “Swing!” or, “Do this!” I was like, ‘Oh, God, somebody’s got to keep her quiet over there.’ “
Gonzalez now has 17 wins on the season, setting a career high. He posted 16 victories with the A’s last season, and with likely six starts remaining this season, he has a legitimate chance to top the 20-win mark.
“After seeing him pitch the first couple times this year, I expect him to do (this) every night. I really do,” Adam LaRoche said. “I think he’s that good. I think he’s capable of that. I feel like every night he has the chance to go nine shutout innings with the stuff he’s got.”