Looking for another win by the bay

SAN FRANCISCO - The Nationals have life. Their clubhouse after yesterday's Game 3 win was brimming with energy. Now they turn the ball over to their most energetic starting pitcher.

After yesterday's dramatic victory, Gio Gonzalez now gets the ball for the Nats today in their second straight must-win ballgame. The left-hander hasn't started a game in 12 days, but with their season on the line, the Nationals will look to Gonzalez to help them extend the National League Division Series and force a decisive Game 5 back in D.C.

gonzalez-gio-red-pitching-away-sidebar.jpgGonzalez didn't face the Giants this season, but he's made three starts against San Francisco since joining the Nats in 2012. In those three outings, spanning 18 innings, Gonzalez has a 1.50 ERA, has allowed 14 hits and six walks and has struck out 11.

He enters this outing riding a good bit of individual momentum. Gonzalez finished the regular season strong, posting a 2.36 ERA over his final seven starts, with a .191 opponent batting average. The long layoff since his last start might be a factor, but Gonzalez has done what he can to stay sharp, including pitching in the intrasquad scrimmage the Nats held at home last Wednesday.

"Keep practicing. Keep doing what I can to get ready," Gonzalez said of his preparation for today's start. "Still stretch, stay with the same routine, know that it's not over yet. So for me, I've still got to prepare myself. I still have to get ready."

Gonzalez has admitted in the past that his emotions sometimes get the better of him during starts, and today, he'll be tasked with trying to rein in those emotions. The 29-year-old is an excitable pitcher and a fierce competitor, despite his happy-go-lucky off-field personality, and that's part of what makes him so successful. But he'll have to harness his emotion today, with the Nats' season on the line.

That's something that Gonzalez said he got tips on from Hall of Famer Greg Maddux back during the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Maddux was the pitching coach for Gonzalez's Team USA squad, and Gonzalez pulled some information from Maddux on how to remain focused during pressure-packed moments.

"Definitely going to be some emotion," Gonzalez said. "There's going to be some excitement. You get a double play, obviously there's going to be some emotion to that, but it's also staying professional as much as possible. In my career and my time playing, I definitely want to stay as much composed and relaxed as possible. Picking up from other pitchers, that's the beauty about being a pitcher on the side, watching other people's emotions and the way they go about it, the way they compete, and just staying low key and professional as much as possible."

Some teams that get to a Game 4 in the Division Series don't have a fourth starter that they can rely on. The Dodgers, for example, are running Clayton Kershaw out there on three days' rest today, instead of going with Dan Haren.

With the Nationals, Gonzalez is rested and ready to toe the rubber. The Giants will counter with right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who posted a 5.53 ERA in September and allowed nine runs in 11 1/3 innings against the Nats in two starts this season.

The Nationals still trail in this series, but the pressure might be riding on the Giants entering today's ballgame. The last thing the Giants want is to have to hop on a plane tonight and fly east, knowing they've squandered a two-game lead and that they'll have to win Game 5 in D.C.

The Nats are confident going into today. Now they need just one more win to really make things interesting.

"We feel good," reliever Tyler Clippard said after Game 3. "Getting this win was big. The momentum shifted a little bit. But it's up to us to keep it on our side. Baseball's a weird thing. So we've got to go out there, do the same thing (Tuesday). Gio's going to put up some zeros, we're going to score some runs, and hopefully it goes our way."

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