If you’ve seen Gio Gonzalez either in person or on TV this season, you might have noticed he’s constantly smiling. It’s hard to miss.
There was a lot of that today after Gonzalez became the first pitcher in the majors to record 20 wins this season. He got a giant bear hug from pitching coach Steve McCatty immediately after the game, among many others, and was the target of a postgame water-cooler shower dished out by reliever Ryan Mattheus.
But there was also a bit more.
Gonzalez seemed genuinely humbled by the accomplishment he reached today. His eyes watered a bit when talking to reporters, and a guy who’s never at a loss for words had trouble expressing exactly what reaching the 20-win mark meant to him.
“This is like a dream,” Gonzalez said, “and I feel like I’m still sleeping in it.”
With his parents, brother, cousins and friends of the family on hand, Gonzalez pitched seven innings today, allowing just two unearned runs on three hits. He struck out five, became the first Washington pitcher to record 200 strikeouts in a season since Walter Johnson in 1916 and helped the Nationals cut their magic number to clinch the division to six.
Not a bad day, all in all.
“It’s one of those things you could just smile about it,” Gonzalez said. “This is a childhood dream, but at the same to do it with a team that’s in first place, makes it that much better.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. In the seventh inning, during a battle with Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado, Gonzalez got his cleat caught on the mound and fell face-down onto the infield grass. Embarrassed, Gonzalez lay flat for a few seconds before getting up and having a laugh with teammates, coaches and trainers that had come to the mound to check on him.
“They were asking, ‘Are you hurt or anything?’ ” Gonzalez said. “I said, ‘Absolutely. My pride is.’ “
These days, pitchers’ wins are not considered as valuable as they used to be. When analyzing pitchers’ performances, more emphasis is placed on ERA, WHIP and other more advanced metrics, largely because a lot of outside factors come into play when determining whether a pitcher earns a win.
His team has to score enough runs, his defense has to play well behind him and he usually needs to rely on the work of his bullpen. Jordan Zimmermann has just 11 wins this season, but he’s pitched a lot better than that number would indicate.
But that doesn’t mean that wins don’t have significant meaning to most starting pitchers. And Gonzalez said that reaching 20 wins in a season is a goal he’s had for a few years now, since his days with the Athletics when he was just breaking into the big leagues.
“I remember training with a guy named Sergio Pacheco,” Gonzalez said. “We had a little folder and in the front of the folder was called ... Project 20. And I sit back and I laugh about it, but that’s every day, when I worked out with him, it was something we wanted to strive for. In a way, you kind of smile about it, because we finally reached our goal and now it’s time to change it up and continue to try and get better goals and higher goals.”
The Nationals gave up a lot to acquire Gonzalez from the A’s this offseason, surrendering three of their top nine prospects, according to Baseball America, in addition to starter Tommy Millone, who has won 13 games and pitched to a 3.86 ERA for Oakland this season.
GM Mike Rizzo had a lot of faith Gonzalez could be a stud in the Nationals’ rotation for years to come, and Gonzalez has rewarded that faith in his first season in D.C.
“This is my way of saying thank you,” Gonzalez said. “And I’m not going to stop here. I’m going to continue to try to do my best every year.”
As Gonzalez took part in his postgame interview with reporters, $20 bills hung behind him from various spots in his locker.
Gonzalez has given his team 20 wins this season. The guys in the clubhouse couldn’t help but give him a little something back.