The Washington Nationals are hitting a collective .226, they've scored less runs than all but four teams in the National League and their All-Star third baseman can't provide them any boost until at least mid-June.
But Monday night, Tom Gorzelanny carved up the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants – allowing three hits over eight innings and walking none – and the left-hander provided the latest example of why those same light-hitting Nationals are a .500 team after 28 games.
With a rotation that continues to defy its career norms, the Nationals shut out the Giants 2-0 on Monday night to finish their homestand 4-3, take three of four games from San Francisco and leave for Philadelphia with a starting staff that posted a 2.18 ERA over the past seven games.
“It's been everything,” said Jerry Hairston Jr. – a member of the San Diego Padres in 2010 who led the NL West for much of the season with a similar formula. “For us to be .500 the way we've started off slow swinging the bats, our pitching staff has kept us right there. They've been outstanding and just giving us the chance to win and that's how you start to win – first you have to have pitching, then you have to have defense and then timely hitting and hopefully our hitting starts to come around.”
The Nationals had some of all three on Military Appreciation Night, an event planned before Sunday night's stunning news that U.S. forces had killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. Gorzelanny and the Giants' Madison Bumgarner then took the spotlight. Bumgarner working a perfect game through four innings; Gorzelanny setting down 23 of the 24 batters following a leadoff double by Aaron Rowand.
It was the finest performance of Gorzelanny's short career in a Nationals uniform and the deepest he's pitched in a game since Aug. 12, 2007, when he tossed a complete-game shutout over San Francisco while with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“He was outstanding,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “Just really outstanding, and good defense behind him. It was just a great performance, and I'm really, really happy with the way he threw.”
Gorzelanny, who was winless despite not allowing more than two earned runs in any of his previous three starts, was the third Nationals starter in the past five games to go at least eight innings. No starter lasted less than six innings during that stretch, and Washington remained the only team in the majors to have a starter work at least five innings in each game.
It's perhaps the biggest reason the Nationals haven't tumbled drastically below .500 despite just one player in the starting lineup, catcher Wilson Ramos, hitting above .245.
“Everyone's going out there and doing their job,” Gorzelanny said. “The thought process each time out is to go out there and do our job. We're pushing each other, and we expect to go out there and do the best we can, get guys out and try to help us win or keep us in the game. Obviously, everybody's been doing a great job of that.”
The starters, an eclectic group ranging from veterans Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis to the more youthful John Lannan and Jordan Zimmermann, along with Gorzelanny, are a tight-knit unit. Gorzelanny calls that relationship the “best one” he's been a part of in his seven-plus seasons in the big leagues. The group has focues on quick outs, rather than piling up strikeouts, in keeping its impressive run going.
“It's not from like 'I dare you to do this,'” Gorzelanny said. “It's not like that, but we feed off each other's outings. If guys need help with something, each of us are helping out. We're a close group, and everyone gets along really well together... We're not strikeout artists over here. We're out here trying to get guys out. Everybody does a very good job of that.”
But until the seventh inning, his teammates were doing a good job of making Bumgarner look like a strikeout artist. Ramos was the only National to reach base, doubling to break up the perfect game leading off the fifth.
He also became the second National to get on base when Giants third baseman Miguel Tejada committed an error with two outs in the seventh.
Ian Desmond followed with a single to right field, and Michael Morse – who'd been mired in a 1-for-19 slump and, along with Hairston, struck out in the fifth to strand Ramos at third – came through with his 16th hit of the season. Hairston followed with a double, and the Nationals had all the runs they'd need.
“Ironically, me and (Morse) had a little chat an inning before that, and I told him, look 70-80 at-bats, in the grand scheme of things, it's nothing. I've played with great players that have hit .190 in their first 200 at-bats and ended up hitting .300,” Hairston said. “Me and him had a chance in the fifth and we quote-unquote failed. Game ain't over.
“Obviously he didn't want to strikeout, I didn't want to strikeout, but we did. It's over and done with, and you've got to believe that you're going to get a second chance. This game is funny. You're in that situation where you do (get a second chance) and we both came through – but if we weren't positive, we wouldn't have come through. That's what this game's about.”
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