The trick, upon the inevitable spillover of emotion, is to turn frustration on someone else. The Nationals did against the San Francisco Giants in a 4-2 victory at Nationals Park, weathering both the first-inning shouting match between Gonzalez and Werth and a 77-minute rain delay. The storm knocked Gonzalez out after he pitched four scoreless innings with a stiff back, and the Nationals leaned on five relievers and Adam LaRoche’s two-run homer in the sixth inning.
As midnight approached, the Nationals could spin a convenient and quite likely truthful narrative: They care enough to bicker. Gonzalez and Werth squaring off in the dugout provided a sign of life for an underachieving team that has won four straight.
“Oh, just a little camaraderie going on,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “Spirits are high. I like it. No big deal.”
Gonzalez and Werth provided a quarrelsome sideshow, but neither their spat nor Werth’s two inning-ending strikeouts prevented the Nationals from winning. In the eighth, Werth smacked a leadoff double and then slid home on his bruised right knee, an insurance run scored on Kurt Suzuki’s sac fly. Rafael Soriano handled the ninth for his 30th save, and Tanner Roark paced the bullpen with no earned runs in two innings for his second win.
The root of the Werth-Gonzalez tiff formed in the top of the first. Joaquin Arias flared a hit down the right field line, a likely — but not certain — double. Werth, playing with the sore right knee he sustained sliding into home plate Sunday, ran to scoop up the ball. As Arias hustled to second, Werth spun, double-clutched and lobbed the ball back to the infield.
After a walk to Brandon Belt, Gonzalez induced a bouncer to the right side from Buster Posey. LaRoche shuffled to his right to field the ball and fired to shortstop Ian Desmond. The Nationals had a chance for a double play, but Gonzalez had lingered on the mound. He could only hold up his left hand, warning Desmond not to throw to a barren first base.
Gonzalez escaped the inning with a zero. As the Nationals came off the field, Gonzalez approached Werth and said something. Werth responded. Werth’s effort on Arias’s double may have upset Gonzalez. Gonzalez’s failure to cover first base may have angered Werth. Maybe both.
“Jayson sometimes can get a little vocal,” Johnson said. “He thought Gio was a little late covering first. And he was. But he falls toward third. With a bad back and falling toward third, he couldn’t get over there.”