PHILADELPHIA - The play of tonight’s game, in the eyes of the Nationals’ relievers, at least, was not Danny Espinosa’s over-the-shoulder sliding catch of a John Mayberry pop up, Ryan Zimmerman’s running, off-balance throw to get Chase Utley in the fifth or Michael Morse’s laser beam home run in the sixth.
It was actually Tom Gorzelanny’s catch of Morse’s second home run of the night, which landed in the Nationals’ bullpen.
Gorzelanny saw the ball coming down into the bullpen, took off his hat and snatched the ball out of the air. The hat catch set off a wild celebration in the ‘pen, complete with high-fives, hugs and smiles all around. Relievers don’t get to celebrate too much out in the bullpen during games, so they enjoyed this one thoroughly.
“Oh, it was awesome,” reliever Tyler Clippard said. “That was fun. I was a little late on the jump. I might’ve tried to steal it from him. But good thing he caught it. If he missed it, that would’ve been pretty bad heckling for a few days.”
Don’t be surprised if that homer/hat catch combo ends up topping the list of SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays for tonight.
The Morse homer was the first ball to land in the visiting team’s bullpen at Citizens Bank Park since Zimmerman hit one there in 2009.
“That was impressive,” Kurt Suzuki said. “That was one of the farthest balls I’ve seen hit.”
“It felt good,” Morse said. “I got a good pitch to hit. I stayed up the middle. It felt real good coming off the bat. At that part of the game, it was a big hit.”
It also gave the Nats and Gio Gonzalez some breathing room, turning a one-run game into a 6-3 Nats lead. By that point, Gonzalez was settled in, but that wasn’t the case through the first two innings, when he was all over the place and was mentally battling to stay focused and make good pitches.
“If you looked at me, I looked like I had a split personality,” Gonzalez said. “I was talking to myself. I was just out there trying to beat myself up. ... (I) just couldn’t find the strike zone. But that’s what a good team does is help the pitcher find his way back. I think everyone had a part in saying something and bouncing me right back to where I needed to be.
“I was a little out of whack, couldn’t find the strike zone, and after that, as soon as the second inning came along, some of the guys were asking me, ‘What are you doing? Let’s go. Figure it out and let’s attack that strike zone.’ That’s exactly what you need, some words of encouragement.”
Most of those words of encouragement came from Suzuki, who knows just what buttons to push when it comes to Gonzalez. The two know each other well from their time together with the A’s, and Suzuki helped his starter navigate a tough stretch and still put together a quality start tonight.
With the win, Gonzalez becomes the first D.C. pitcher with 21 or more wins since Bob Porterfield notched 22 victories in 1953.
“I think a lot of people can pitch well when things are going good,” Suzuki said. “But it’s the (top) guys that can really bear down when they need to when things aren’t going their way or they aren’t feeling their greatest.”