- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2012

PHILADELPHIA — Yoly Gonzalez arrived to the ballpark early Thursday afternoon. Tonight her son Gio was pitching. Tonight her son would offer his counter-punch to R.A. Dickey’s latest resume line for the Cy Young award, and attempt to bring the Washington Nationals that much closer to a division championship.

She was there early enough to watch batting practice.

So as she stood in the first row of seats at Citizens Bank Park, her son’s teammates milling about the batting cage, Michael Morse approached her to say hello. She reached into the dugout, extending her hand. “Hit a home run tonight, Mike,” she said, a smile on her face.

Gio Gonzalez might not have aided his Cy Young cause significantly Thursday night, a nightmarish three-run first inning before five scoreless muddling his latest pitching line in the Nationals‘ 7-3 win, though he did become the franchise’s first 21-game winner.

But Morse did not disappoint.

Washington Nationals' Michael Morse, rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run off Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Tyler Cloyd in the sixth inning of a baseball game, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, in Philadelphia. Washington won 7-3. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Washington Nationals’ Michael Morse, rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home ... more >

He hit not one but two home runs, the second a monstrous shot into the Nationals‘ bullpen that measured 451 feet and might have gone further had lefty Tom Gorzelanny not made an impressive snag with his cap.

And as he hit them, the Nationals‘ magic number to clinch the National League East dropped to three. The lead in the division held firm at four games with the Atlanta Braves winning their fifth straight. The Nationals‘ win total on the season reached 95, the most in franchise history since the 1979 Montreal Expos.

“I know if we win three more, we’re in, we win the pennant,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “That’s all I want everybody in that room to figure on.”

The last six weeks — if not the whole injury-plagued year — have been difficult for the Nationals‘ slugging left fielder. From a right thumb injury to a bone bruise and a torn sheath in his left wrist, sandwiched around getting hit with a pitch on the outside of his right hand, Morse has hardly been himself. Not to mention the torn right lat muscle that cost him the first six weeks of his season.

A week ago, Johnson listed getting Morse healthy and hitting for power as chief among his requests for the Nationals‘ playoff drive. In batting practice on Tuesday, Johnson noticed Morse getting the head of the bat out more, feeling “frisky,” as Johnson put it, with his wrist more stable now than it has been in weeks.

“I guess it’s never too late to get going,” Morse said Thursday night. “I feel good. It’s been a tough year for me, but this team is doing so great that everybody’s been picking up everybody the whole year. I guess that’s what good teams do.”

With the Nationals three wins from a ticket into the National League Division Series, now wouldn’t be the worst time for Morse to continue to feel more like himself.

“It would be perfect [to get hot now],” Morse said. “This is perfect timing right now.”

What had suffered the most from Morse’s hand issues was his power. The same guy who hit 31 home runs in 2011 was going roughly 29 plate appearances between them this season. Since the first hand issue arose in mid-August, 32 games for Morse before he strode to the plate in the second inning, he’d registered just five extra-base hits. He told Johnson he was going to hit 20 home runs by the end of the year. He was at 16 when Thursday’s game ended.

When Morse came to the plate for the first time Thursday night, Gonzalez was in need of help. Given a 1-0 lead on Bryce Harper’s solo home run — the second straight day the 19-year-old rookie had homered in his first at-bat of the day and his 21st of the season — Gonzalez gave it all back and more in a miserable first.

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