The previous two nights had left the Nationals in the hands of Gio Gonzalez, and he delivered with one of the most memorable nights of his career. In the Nationals’4-3 victory, their third straight harrowing win over hapless Houston, Gonzalez pitched the first nine-inning complete game of his career and paced the offense with his first major league home run, a two-run blast in the second inning that put the Nationals ahead to stay.
“Today, it was like a Little League game for Gio,” Clippard said. “Hits the two-run homer, we win by one and he throws a complete game. That’s like Williamsport Little League stuff. It’s awesome. What a day for him.”
Extra innings had sucked the life of out the Nationals’ relievers, who threw a combined 10 2/3 innings over the previous two nights. Both Clippard and Drew Storen were unavailable. Edwin Jackson, Tuesday’s starter, joined the bullpen in case of emergency.
Manager Davey Johnson did not know for certain who he would use as his closer. He lifted any pitch restriction from Gonzalez, then mulled altering his beta-blocker intake. “I may double up,” Johnson said before the game. He still couldn’t relax, but Gonzalez gave the bullpen a night off.
“It was imperative,” Johnson said. “Just a great outing by Gio to save the bullpen.”
Gonzalez allowed two runs on six hits and two walks. Captain Hook, Johnson’s self-named, quick-pull alter ego, stayed in the dugout.
“It was huge,” Clippard said of Gonzalez’s effort. “I can’t really express the need for that.”
Gonzalez ended his night giving a television interview on the field, where Jackson smeared a shaving cream pie in his face. He had thrown to Kurt Suzuki, his old catcher with the A’s, just acquired in a trade. He had pitched an eight-inning complete before — for the Oakland Athletics in a loss on Aug. 1, 2010 — but never a full one, and his first came on the night he hit a homer.
“It means a lot,” Gonzalez said. “It’s the first time in my career going nine innings like that. In a different league, also getting a home run. Today is just one of those where you smile about it. But tomorrow is a new day.”
The ninth inning nearly scuttled Gonzalez’s accomplishment. He walked to the mound with a two-run lead. The Astros scored one run on an RBI single by Ben Francisco. Jose Alutve followed with a single to center. Pinch-runner Brian Bogusevic tried going from first to third on the play, and Bryce Harper fired to third. The ball bounded past Ryan Zimmerman and headed toward the dugout. Gonzalez dove to stop it before it rolled in, keeping Bogusevic at third and the Nationals ahead.
Johnson faulted Harper for an ill-advised throw, and he said he planned on giving the rookie a day off Thursday. Johnson sensed Harper took his frustration over two looking strikeouts on controversial calls by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez into the field, and he wanted him to take a day to relax.