“It doesn’t feel like a 20th win for myself,” Gonzalez said. “It feels like a 20th win for the team. It’s one of those things you could just smile about it. This is a childhood dream, but at the same to do it with a team that’s in first place, makes it that much better.”
The Atlanta Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies later in the afternoon, but the Nationals’ victory reduced their magic number to win the National League East to six with 11 games remaining.
Gonzalez’s day included only one hiccup. With one out in the seventh, he clipped a spike on the rubber as he delivered a pitch. The ball flew out of his hand and bounced off the netting high above the backstop. He fell face-first on the mound.
“A perfect 10,” Desmond said. “I’m just glad he didn’t mess up his hair.”
Gonzalez played dead in front of the mound, his face in the grass. As he rose, he stretched his back, causing personnel to rush from the home dugout and 40,493 hearts to drop.
Johnson, McCatty, head trainer Lee Kuntz and the infielders circled Gonzalez. Someone asked if he was hurt. “Absolutely,” Gonzalez replied. “My pride is.”
The huddle dispersed, and Gonzalez tipped to his cap to the roaring crowd. On his next pitch, he struck out Martin Maldonado swinging at a curveball in the dirt.
“You’re giving the fans what they deserve, a show,” Gonzalez said. “Face-first into the floor is definitely what you came to see.”
After Gonzalez polished off the inning, Johnson shook his hand as he returned to the dugout. He watched the remainder, and teammates hugged him upon the last out.
Afterward, Gonzalez thought back to his morning workouts in Hialeah. “I’m still in shock mode,” Gonzalez said. “I’m still emotional right now.” He insisted he would have to come up with a new goal, a higher aim, now that he has accomplished the first one. He has a new team now, and a new place to call home.
“This to me is like saying a thank you to Rizzo for taking a chance with me and giving me an opportunity to play in this great organization,” Gonzalez said. “And I’m not going to stop here.”