ST. LOUIS - As Gio Gonzalez took a seat in the press conference room at Busch Stadium late this afternoon, he rubbed his upper arms and leaned down towards the microphone with a smile on his face.
“I’m trembling right now,” he said. “It’s not my nerves, it’s just the cold.”
Gonzalez will get the ball for the Nationals tomorrow afternoon for Game 1 of the National League Division Series. It’ll be the first postseason start of his career, so you could forgive him if he was feeling a bit nervous less than 24 hours from first pitch. But the Nationals left-hander insists that he’s going about this start the same way he has all the others, despite the much higher stakes.
“To me, I try to stick with the same routine, have some fun,” Gonzalez said. “What I’ve experienced in talking to some of the veteran guys that have World Series experience and playoff (experience) is that, try not to change anything, but understand that it will be very tough and pitches will be very tough. You just have to mentally prepare yourself and pound the strike zone.
“I’m excited. I’m not in any way, shape or form trying to show any signs of weakness or anything like that. I’m just too excited about it. I mean, first time ever to experience something like this, and to do it (against) a team that won the World Series last year - it’s a privilege.”
A native of Hialeah, Fla., near Miami, Gonzalez played four seasons in Oakland, where he often had to deal with cool conditions. He was able to laugh about the low temperatures today, but in all seriousness, it’ll be something he’ll need to battle tomorrow.
“We came here like a week ago, it was nice and sunny and 75 and you’re out in shorts,” he said. “Now you need sweat pants, you need a long-sleeved shirt. ... I think that kind of weather is good. It just gives you a little more energy, you can breathe a little bit. It expands your lungs, and hopefully, we’ll see tomorrow, I heard it’s going to be 65 and sunny. So turn the heaters on.”
It actually should be a bit colder than that; they’re calling for a high of 57 degrees tomorrow, so Gonzalez better bundle up.
He might be cold, but he’ll be taking the mound tomorrow riding a good bit of momentum. He reached a personal goal during the regular season by topping the 20-win mark, finishing with 21 victories. He ended the regular season strong, notching the win in eight of his last 10 starts.
He also has had success against the Cardinals; Gonzalez threw a shutout against St. Louis on Aug. 31, allowing just five hits and striking out eight. The Cardinals’ offense has come alive recently, which the Nats saw firsthand last week when they allowed St. Louis to plate 26 runs over three games.
“Last night, watching their (wild card) game, they are never going to quit,” Gonzalez said. “Their guys are very patient and at times they need to be aggressive and produce runs. They are a smart playing ballclub. They lay the bunts down when they need to and get runners over. Just gotta pick up little things like that. My job is to keep us as tight as much as possible, keep us in the game and just let our bullpen go out there and try to shut it down for us.”
Gonzalez might not approach tomorrow’s start any differently than he would a regular season one, but the excitement level is obviously ratcheted up a couple notches.
“It’s a childhood dream,” Gonzalez said of making his first postseason start. “I think it’s every kid’s childhood dream who wants to play baseball. To represent not only D.C. and the Washington Nationals, but the players who have played in this uniform - to me, most important, my family, just to say that I represent the Gonzalez family, represent the city of Hialeah. There’s so many things that factor into this that you take it with a smile.
“To go out there to be the starting pitcher, especially with the big games like, this just lets you know what they think about me and how honored and humbled I am about it.”