The Washington Nationals’ offensive firepower was such Wednesday night that it was a fairly safe bet it was going to steal whatever headlines Gio Gonzalez thought about penning with his performance.
And then Gonzalez took the mound and opened with five no-hit innings against a Cubs lineup that easily could’ve had him, and everyone else in his dugout, thinking of the possibilities.
Everyone, apparently, except manager Davey Johnson who had his left-hander on a fairly strict pitch count after he used 119 in a complete game last weekend.
“I didn’t want him to go quite that far,” Johnson said. “(Even with a no-hitter going) I’d have still hooked him. He might have fought me. I wasn’t worried about that. It depended on how he was throwing, really. But not if he was laboring at all.”
“I just wanted to attack the zone,” Gonzalez said, denying that he thought about a no-hitter. “Just one of those things you have to go out there and keep pitching. You wanted your guys to go back in and swing the bat as soon as possible.”
Through five innings, the lone blemish on his night was not his to bear. It was a throwing error by shortstop Ian Desmond, an on-line throw that hopped one too many times on its way to first baseman Adam LaRoche and couldn’t beat third baseman Josh Vitters.
Until Barney’s hard single past the dive of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman opened the sixth, Vitters was the only mark on Gonzalez’s boxscore, the one batter who stepped to the plate and didn’t promptly return back to the dugout.
Otherwise it was an array of outs that just continued to pile up. Gonzalez coaxed two ground outs and a strikeout in the first inning. In the second it was three outs handled by his infielders on grounders. The third featured two fly outs and Gonzalez’s second strikeout. In the fourth, more of the same. The fifth inning brought with it one of each, a fly out, a strikeout and a ground out.
“When he steps on the mound, he’s a competitor,” said second baseman Danny Espinosa. “He was throwing strikes. His breaking pitch was working really well. When he’s got confidence in that pitch and he’s throwing it for a strike, he’s pretty untouchable.”
Even after they got to him in the sixth, he stranded Barney on first and got out of another two-on, two-out jam in the seventh to complete his night after 93 pitches, seven innings and nine strikeouts. He finished his start with a 16-inning scoreless streak intact to take into his next outing on Monday in New York.
And in his last seven starts, Gonzalez has worked to a 2.28 ERA and struck out 48 batters.
He’s now 18-7, joining Mets’ knuckleballer R.A. Dickey as the only 18-game winners in the major leagues, and has a 2.98 ERA for the season. And as often as he may deflect the topic, much like his teammates, his name is going to continue to come up in the Cy Young conversation.
“It’s an honor,” Gonzalez said. “But at the same time my eyes are on something else. I want to continue to win for this team and continue to stay healthy and strong, and keep battling and trying to get some more wins for them. I think that we’re playing such great baseball I think it’s selfish of me to think for myself.”