There is no way to truly know what emotions swirled through Gio Gonzalez's mind this evening when he took the mound at Nationals Park, only three days removed from learning his friend and fellow big league pitcher Jose Fernandez had been killed in a boating accident in Miami.
Gonzalez, who will be leaving the club Thursday to attend Fernandez's funeral, has declined so far to speak about the accident. But those who have been around him these last few days, and anyone who saw him shed tears both during Sunday's national anthem in Pittsburgh and tonight's warmups at Nationals Park, got a sense of his current mindset.
"They say time heals all wounds, but some wounds take longer to heal," manager Dusty Baker said. "Probably won't really set in until after the season, when he's back in Miami and around and Jose's not around."
Trying times or not, Gonzalez knew he still had a job to do tonight. This was his final opportunity to pitch before the postseason, and the Nationals desperately wanted him to head into his long layoff before Game 3 or 4 of the National League Division Series on a positive note.
That did not happen. Gonzalez labored through 3 2/3 innings, reaching the 100-pitch mark after facing only 21 batters. And when his teammates couldn't muster up any kind of rally against Diamondbacks right-hander Shelby Miller, they were left to suffer a 3-0 loss in a game that was called with one out in the top of the sixth due to heavy rain that is expected to remain in the area straight into Friday.
"Before the game, I talked to him a little bit about Fernandez, and (how) he was pitching for him and for us," Baker said. "Just wasn't a very good night."
This, unfortunately, has become the norm for Gonzalez, who wrapped up his worst regular season since joining the Nationals with an 11-11 record and 4.57 ERA in 32 starts. That, however, includes a strong first six weeks to his season, when he was 3-1 with a 1.86 ERA. Over his final 24 starts, he went 8-10 with a 5.58 ERA. He failed to reach the sixth inning in seven of his last 10 starts.
Next up: The Dodgers in the NLDS.
"You start the postseason with a zero ERA," Gonzalez said. "It's a new series, new way to look at it."
At the moment, the Nationals will open that best-of-five series with the Dodgers at home, but that could change in short order. They held a 1 1/2-game lead in the race for home field advantage, with Los Angeles playing late in San Diego.
With an opportunity to move closer to securing the NL's second-best record tonight, the Nationals lineup fell flat. Miller, who entered with a 2-12 record and 6.47 ERA, held that group to four singles and walk in what became an abbreviated, five-inning shutout.
The Nationals put only one man into scoring position, in the bottom of the fifth, and then stranded him at second base when Trea Turner's drive to deep right-center was caught at the warning track.
"I thought I hit it really good," Turner said. "I thought it had a chance to get out, or worst-case go off the wall, and I realized he caught it and was pretty confused. But I think the wind and the rain were howling in pretty hard from right-center. And that's how it goes."
That's how it goes right now for the Nationals, who twice in the last 10 days have suffered rain-shortened losses. For now, it's not costing them. But check back Sunday evening, when they'll know for sure if they're opening the playoffs at home or at Dodger Stadium, for the final answer.