Gonzalez’ gem powers Nationals to 3rd-straight win

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

WASHINGTON — Eight innings into the first complete-game shutout of his career, Gio Gonzalez received a jolt of energy from one of the loudest Nationals Park crowds of the season.

Chants of “Let’s go Gio!” emanated from all corners of the stadium, keeping Gonzalez alive in the ninth despite surrendering a leadoff single and a walk two batters later. But then Shane Robinson came to the plate with two outs and launched a Gonzalez fastball — still hitting 94 MPH on the radar — high and harmlessly to Bryce Harper in center field. Harper hauled it in, rewarding the Nats and whatever the percentage of the crowd that stayed for the duration of the game despite a 10-0 blowout.

“It was kind of like having a Red Bull right there in the ninth,” Gonzalez said of the crowd’s chanting. “But when they were coming alive, I was just trying to do my best and try to pound that strike zone. Then I just came up with it, and [Kurt Suzuki] did a great job and made everything come out alive. The defense was unbelievable.”

Gonzalez was effusive with his praise afterward, lauding the Nats’ team defense and catcher Kurt Suzuki more than anything. He also thanked the 10 runs on 12 hits the offense supplied him, deadpanning, “10 runs is a pretty good cushion.”

The victory boosted his record to 17-7, tying him with R.A. Dickey and Johnny Cueto for the Major League-lead in wins. But perhaps more than anything, it continued the tremendous distance the Nats have placed between their current standing and the five-game losing streak earlier this week that muddied much of their strong play in August.

It all came with Gonzalez’ family in the stands, too, with his mother directly in his line of sight for the whole game.

“My Mom was right behind home plate, so imagine seeing [Suzuki’s] face, then the umpire and then my mom,” Gonzalez said. “So it was like, ‘Uh oh, can’t disappoint you, Ma.’ You can hear her every at-bat, ‘Swing! Do this!’ And I’m like, oh God, somebody keep her quiet over there.

“My dad disappeared, my dad was somewhere in the stands. Probably in left field or something. It was one of those things when you have your whole family here, you want to step it up and enjoy it.”

The Nats sure did enjoy it, and a lot of it was due to manager Davey Johnson, who kept Gonzalez in the game despite his reaching 119 pitches. With Major League rosters set to expand to 40 players tomorrow and significant alteration coming soon to the rotation once Stephen Strasburg is shut down, Johnson has been stretching his starters a little longer. Thursday night, Edwin Jackson tossed eight sterling shutout innings, giving up just four hits with 10 strikeouts and two walks while throwing 123 pitches.

“I had an 120-pitch limit on [Gonzalez] in a game like that,” Johnson said. “He took me right to the edge. If he walked [the last batter], I had [Ryan] Mattheus ready. But I might’ve let him go over my predetermined number. Otherwise, I’d have Gio hassling me all week. So, what a great effort.”

In actuality, the decision might not’ve been that difficult for Johnson. After Gonzalez said his manager would’ve had to “kill me first” before he’d leave the game, the 26-year-old lefty said Johnson teasingly pushed him back to the mound for the ninth inning.

Either way, Gonzalez was dealing from the start. Though he had only two strikeouts through three innings, Gonzalez got five of those nine outs on ground balls.

“His curveball was good early tonight,” Suzuki said. “Usually, it takes a little bit for him to get into a groove and get his curveball going. He was spotting his fastball, keeping it down in the zone, moving it in and out. You could just kind of see it from the beginning couple of innings.”

Gonzalez struck out four batters over the last three innings, enjoying 1-2-3 frames in the seventh and eighth after facing just four batters in the sixth. But when Robinson’s fly ball floated high toward center field on his 119th pitch, Gonzalez — satisfied but worn-out — just hoped the game would end.

“Catch it please, Bryce,” he said of his thoughts while the ball was in the air. “That’s all I had left in the tank. As soon as he caught it, I just stood there, closed my eyes for a second, or probably not. Then I gave Suzuki a big smile and a big handshake, a thank you. It’s a great win for us all.”

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