NEW YORK — Early Monday afternoon as Gio Gonzalez strolled through the visitors’ clubhouse at Citi Field, his ears perked up as the televisions – tuned to MLBNetwork – began to discuss the Nationals’ left-hander.
Gonzalez pointed up at the TV, smiled as the host lauded him for “becoming a star” his first season in Washington and pumped his fist.
“Yes,” he said sarcastically, pointing up to the television that hung above his locker. “Listen up, guys.”
But when his six innings of work in the Nationals’ 5-1 victory over the Mets were complete, he’d added another line to his Cy Young, star-worthy resume by becoming the first pitcher in the major leagues to reach 19 wins – with a boost from his bludgeoning offensive teammates.
The Nationals hit three more home runs Monday night, giving them 33 in their last 13 games and a National League leading 78 since the All-Star break, as Kurt Suzuki, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond powered them to their 87th victory of the season.
“I think it was inevitable that if we all got hot we were going to start putting the ball in play with a little more authority,” Desmond said, his 22 home runs this season more than any Washington middle infielder in D.C. baseball history. “For where we’re at now, from where we started the year, it’s a huge leap – and it’s good to see that we can win games both ways.”
In the process of Gonzalez improving his record to 19-7, the Nationals hit three or more home runs in a game for the 21st time this season and allowed for what could be deemed an off night for their lefty (if six one-run innings can be considered such a thing) to pass by without note. It allowed for their lead in the division to move back to 6½, their magic number to clinch the NL East to drop to 15 with the Atlanta Braves’ loss and their number to qualify for a playoff spot to fall to nine.
It allowed for words like Cy Young and MVP to continue to be tossed around their post-game clubhouses as the decision time for the awards draws ever closer.
“He had great stuff, but just wasn’t really consistent,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who took a little added pride in the fact that the Nationals’ victory officially eliminated the Mets from the divisional race. “Wasn’t one of his better ones, but he did have great stuff and he did battle and give me six innings. I was real pleased with that.”
In lowering his ERA to 2.93, Gonzalez’s command was not where it should be. He walked five batters and struck out six. He forced himself to use 104 pitches in six innings of work and noted after the game how important teammates like Suzuki and Desmond were in helping him keep what composure he had on a night when his attitude was lacking.
“It’s definitely mental,” Suzuki said of Gonzalez’s wildness. “I do but I think it’s more mental. Gio’s stuff is so good that it has to be mental I think because that’s how good he is.”
Gonzalez did settle some eventually, walking four batters in the first three innings but only one more in the last three. His lone scoreboard blemish came on a solo home run by Scott Hairston, a harmless shot to deep left center field in the fourth inning. He couldn’t pinpoint any physical adjustment that allowed him to control the ball better, though Johnson noted his command even within the zone was inconsistent which doesn’t help with calls from the umpire.
“It’s more like bite your tongue and continue to pitch,” Gonzalez said. “(Suzuki and Jesus Flores) can pick that up instantly. They can talk to me almost like a younger brother to them where its a slap in the face or something, ‘Hey, let’s go. Let’s get it back going.’
“I told (Desmond) before I came out there in the fifth, ‘Stay with me. My attitude is not looking too good. But hopefully you can make the adjustment with me and help me steer it the right way.’”
His credentials for the league’s most prestigious pitching award continue to pile up, particularly with each win the Nationals help add to his record. R.A. Dickey will pitch for the Mets on Tuesday, a chance for his teammates to do some damage to the resume of one of his top competitors for the Cy Young award.
“No question,” said Johnson, asked if he feels Gonzalez is worthy for the award. “No doubt about it. I know Dickey gets a lot of attention, but you’re talking about a last-place club. It’s a little bit different. We’ve been on top and getting all those wins.”
And as he has after each of his past several wins, wins and games that beef his resume up for the voters, Gonzalez simply deflected any individual awards discussion. His focus, he insists, is on the game at hand: Monday, that was beating the beleaguered Mets – and he did.
“I’m definitely focused on trying to get some more wins for these guys,” he said. “When you start looking at one thing, it just drives you crazy. I think the way we’re doing it is having fun and continue to play our baseball so if it comes, it comes.”