The sun beat down on the field at Nationals Park on Saturday afternoon. The temperature climbed over 100 degrees for the first pitch for the fourth time in the last eight games and Gio Gonzalez took the hill to sweat it out.
He didn't need any help twirling six strong innings over the Colorado Rockies in the Nationals' 4-1 victory, his final tuneup before heading to Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday night for the 2012 All-Star Game.
"I tried to mentally break through [the heat]," Gonzalez, a south Florida native, said.
In the midst of allowing just one run on three hits and three walks, Gonzalez made sure to tell home plate umpire Mike DiMuro to keep cool, urging him to throw an ammonia towel over his head between innings and to take advantage of air conditioning in the tunnel when he could.
After a heat-soaked weekend in Atlanta that greeted his previous start, as well as that of Stephen Strasburg and forced the latter's removal from the game, the Nationals brought in a doctor this week to administer fluids to their pitchers intravenously before they pitched this weekend. Gonzalez did not take one.
"I didn't get an IV," the always upbeat left-hander quipped after the game. "Absolutely not. I think that would be an insult to our Latin heritage down in Miami.
"I was just trying to adapt to it and keep going. I've lost a ton of weight from it but at the same time, I got my liquids in me. That's for sure. Just got to keep fighting through it."
In doing so, Gonzalez allowed his offense plenty of time to break a 1-1 tie (reached via Ian Desmond's 16th home run), take advantage of a sloppy Rockies team and earn his 12th victory of the season.
"Gio pitched an outstanding game," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who hooked him after six innings and 102 pitches despite Gonzalez's protest. "He was going to fight me again. He didn't want to leave the game tied. I said, 'You're done. You're not talking me out of nothing. And we'll get you a win right here.' Thank goodness we got him a win."
The 12 wins by a starting pitcher tied a Nationals record before the All-Star break. Livan Hernandez had 12 wins in 19 starts before the break in 2005. Gonzalez, who lowered his ERA to 2.92, notched his 12th win of the season in his 17th start, tying Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey for the National League lead.
"I'm glad that he gave me an opportunity to go out there and at least continue to pitch," Gonzalez said. "He could have easily taken me out after I walked that guy [in the sixth inning], but that is the confidence we have built between each other. I will do anything for that manager."
So the Nationals rewarded that performance by scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth, taking advantage of several errors — mental and physical — by the Rockies and breaking open a game their bullpen then easily shut down.
They'll play one more game before their four-day break and, no matter what, they'll have the best record (49-33) in the NL when they return on July 13 in Miami. Until then, their left-hander will look forward to chowing down at the All-Star Game and taking in the scene.
"I'm just looking forward to the barbecue in Kansas City," Gonzalez said. "It is a good win, but tomorrow we have another one. Tomorrow we got Jordan [Zimmermann] on the mound and we feel real comfortable to get that win from him."
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