NEW YORK — Gio Gonzalez saw the ball bounce off the outfield wall at Citi Field and found another gear as he raced around the bases.
And then he slowed down. Was the ball over the fence? He wasn’t sure so it was time to take off again. By the end he was sprinting home from third base while one umpire laconically signaled home run.
“Even the bullpen guys were telling me ‘You were running away like you were running from the cops,’” Gonzalez said. “I was like ‘I don’t know what that’s about.’ I guess I know what it is now.”
That fifth inning home run from Gonzalez, just the third of his career, added a moment of levity to a crisp, clean Washington victory, a 5-1 win over the New York Mets on Wednesday night.
“That was epic,” teammate Ian Desmond deadpanned. “That’s gonna go down in the memory bank for a long, long time.”
Gonzalez crossed home plate and immediately made eye contact with his brother, who was sitting in the stands. They could only laugh at his base running adventures. Gonzalez feigned needing oxygen in the dugout as his teammates pummeled him and laughed.
He wasn’t too bad on the mound, either. Nats pitchers have combined for 31 strikeouts in the first two games of the season, which, according to The Elias Sports Bureau, is a new major league record through two games. Gonzalez (1-0, 1.50 ERA) tossed six innings with one run allowed on three hits. He struck out six batters and walked just one.
“It just starts with his fastball,” Nats manager Matt Williams said. “Once he established his fastball command, everything else works off of that. He did that tonight, settled in and was able to find that command and his other stuff, too.”
And the lineup did the rest. With catcher and cleanup batter Wilson Ramos sidelined at least a month with a broken hamate bone in his left hand, a revamped order supported Gonzalez. Adam LaRoche, who moved up to fourth in the lineup, doubled home Jayson Werth, who batted 4-for-4 on the day.
Ian Desmond smoked a home run to left center in the fifth to put Washington ahead 2-1 and Gonzalez followed two batters later with his own. While the pitching staff was holding the Mets’ inept bats in check, a wild pitch brought home Denard Span in the seventh. Span tripled in the ninth and scored on a ground out by Anthony Rendon.
That was all Gonzalez and three relievers – Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen – would need. Only one New York batter reached base against Washington’s relievers. Gonzalez is now 6-1 in his career vs. New York in nine starts and has won six straight decisions.
Left fielder Bryce Harper helped. With the lead 3-1, Juan Lagares doubled. It looked like teammate Ruben Tejada would score easily, but the ball took a nice carom off the stands in foul territory for Harper, who charged the ball and unleashed a low, one-hopper to catcher Jose Lobaton.
“Your instincts tell you what a normal outfielder can do,” said Desmond, who had a perfect view of the play. “Not someone with a bazooka.”
Gonzalez was just matching his exploits from last season. In the second game of the season in 2013, again at Citi Field, he also homered. That one was far more conventional. So why the long wait in between?
“Because that’s how baseball is. You’ve got to wait,” Gonzalez joked. “No, again it’s one of those lucky things. You swing, close your eyes, see what happens. But, obviously, I didn’t think it was a home run. I thought it was just a double off the wall. By the way my feet were running I thought it was the hardest I’ve ever ran in my entire career.”