MIAMI — As her son stood behind the mound at Marlins Park and gathered himself, his back facing home plate and the “Gonzalez” stitched over the shoulders of his uniform staring back at her, Yoli Gonzalez fidgeted.
Her view couldn’t have been better. She sat in the first row, directly behind home plate, and close enough for her frequent shouts of encouragement to her son, Washington Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, to actually be heard. Behind her, an entire section was filled with friends and family who let shouts of “Gio!” escape their lungs sporadically.
So many people had called to ask for tickets the previous few days, Yoli Gonzalez finally had to stop answering the phone.
She wore the royal blue All-Star Game jersey that bore her son’s name and number, a souvenir from Gio’s trip to Kansas City last summer. And as Gio came set on the mound Tuesday night to open his first performance for Team USA, she tried to settle herself down.
“I need to relax,” she said, allowing herself an anxious laugh as she sipped from a drink a friend passed to her. “Let’s go, G!”
Her nerves would ease soon.
Soon Gonzalez would turn in five scoreless innings of work in a performance that toggled between dominant and electric and impressed anyone who watched. Wearing the letters of his country across his chest, pitching no more than 20 minutes from his hometown, Gonzalez stood on an international stage and seized the moment in a way he acknowledged he was unable to in October during the playoffs.
In the Cuban-American enclave of Hialeah, Fla., those who couldn’t make it in person packed themselves in front of televisions. The children on the Hialeah High School baseball team that Gonzalez helps sponsor raced home from their own 6-5 win to see the man most of them idolize pitch for their country.
At home or local establishments like Flanigan’s, where Gonzalez spent Sunday night watching Team USA beat Canada and nervously munching on chicken wings, they rooted for one of their own.
“You couldn’t have scripted this any better,” Gonzalez said as Tuesday turned to Wednesday and he sat beside manager Joe Torre and third baseman David Wright in the interview room. “This was a blessing to be alongside some of the greatest. And to say that I pitched in front of my home crowd to win? It’s truly a dream.”
“I think that’s probably pretty cool,” said Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who has watched all of Team USA’s games from afar. “That’s a pretty big stage, pitching for your country, in your hometown. It had to have been pretty awesome. I think he wanted to have a good showing, and he did.”
The picture, of course, would be incomplete without mention of what the past few weeks have been like for the Nationals’ affable left-hander.
As he pitched Tuesday, he did so less than 10 miles from the Miami anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis of America, that reportedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs to several major leaguers. Gonzalez’s name surfaced in a Jan. 29 Miami New Times report linking him and many other prominent players to the clinic.
His denials are adamant and steadfast, including the revelation of a drug test passed two days after the initial report. Subsequent reports have said he is not suspected of purchasing performance-enhancing drugs from owner Anthony Bosch. Gonzalez’s father, Max, has said he saw Bosch in an effort to lose weight.
When Gonzalez pitched Tuesday, Max, a once-constant presence during Gonzalez’s games and throughout the Nationals’ 2012 season, wasn’t at the stadium. He’s kept himself scarce the past few weeks as his son has waded through the storm brought by Biogenesis, often with a smile and no hint of weariness.
But Major League Baseball’s investigation is not complete and, until it is, the Nationals’ 21-game winner will remain under the cloud of suspicion that comes with allegations of this nature as he works to continue to distance himself from them.
As he has all spring, Gonzalez didn’t divert from his bubbly persona Tuesday night. Neither did Yoli, cheering for her son at each break in the action. With the support of a city, in the shadow of his home, Gonzalez was, at the very least, himself.
“Don’t pinch me,” he said. “I don’t want to wake up.”