Going The Distance
While the Nationals back-to-back extra-inning wins on Monday and Tuesday night over the Houston Astros provided plenty of drama and fodder for water cooler chatter, they also left Washington’s bullpen dangerously thin entering the third of a 10-game road trip. So much so, in fact, that Davey Johnson sent starter Edwin Jackson down to be on standby as an emergency reliever, should Washington need one. Thankfully, the Nats didn’t need any bullpen help at all Wednesday night, as Gio Gonzalez stepped up with perhaps his biggest all-around performance of the season. Not only did Gonzalez toss his first career nine-inning complete game, he also belted his first Major League home run, a two-run shot that proved to be the difference in a 4-3 victory.
Gonzalez made a splash in his first home start back in the home opener on April 12, twirling seven spotless innings and logging his first Major League hit. If that game set the tone for the All-Star’s season, his outing Wednesday night may have provided its defining moment. Reunited for the first time in a game with Kurt Suzuki, his old catcher from Oakland, the 26 year-old southpaw reminded Nationals fans of exactly why Mike Rizzo traded for him this past offseason. Finishing what he started, Gonzalez scattered nine Astros hits and two walks over his 117-pitch outing as he became just the second Nationals starter this year to go the distance after Jackson did so all the way back in April.
As if that wasn’t enough, Gonzalez also delivered the biggest performance of the game on offense. After the Nationals made two quick outs to start the second inning in a 1-1 game, Suzuki came to bat. Astros starter Armando Galarraga plunked the Nats backstop on the rear with his first pitch. Gonzalez stepped up immediately to pick up his teammate. He turned on Galarraga’s very next pitch and belted it deep into the top of the Crawford boxes in left field for a two-run shot, giving Washington a lead it would never relinquish.
Although the left-field seats in Houston are notoriously easy to reach, the tater was a no-doubter, and would have been a number of rows deep at any ballpark in the league, including Nationals Park. See for yourself.
As a result, the Nationals staff now holds a unique distinction. Three Washington starting pitchers – Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, who toes the rubber in Thursday’s series finale – have each hit home runs and have each been honored as National League Pitcher of the Month. With the start Ross Detwiler is off to in August (1-0, 1.29 ERA in two starts), that got us thinking: which is a more likely accomplishment for this Nationals staff: another Pitcher of the Month award, or another home run?