“They roughed him up over at our place, but he pitched a masterpiece,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He was dominant from the first pitch on. He had something to prove, and he was going to prove it.”
Gonzalez earned his 13th win, which tied him for the National League lead with R.A. Dickey, the knuckleballer he opposed Tuesday night for the second time in a week. Dickey, who easily won last Thursday’s encounter, beguiled the Nationals until the sixth inning, when they exploded for four runs, all of them with two outs. Ryan Zimmerman added to his incredible run with three more hits, Adam LaRoche smashed an upper-deck homer and Danny Espinosa stayed hot in the second half with two hits.
Gonzalez, who entered with a 4.93 ERA in his past nine starts, returned to his earlier dominance, but in a different way. Before Tuesday’s game, he and catcher Jesus Flores resolved to throw more strikes against the Mets, a lineup of patient hitters. They would lean on his sinker more than his off-speed pitches. “We talked about being more aggressive in the zone and attacking the hitters,” Flores said.
Gonzalez did not rack up strikeouts — he had four, a thimbleful for a pitcher averaging 10.5 per nine innings. He instead pumped strikes and induced contact early in counts. He threw six pitches in the first and five in the fourth. After four innings, he had thrown a scant 39.
“I wanted to redeem myself from my last start, give our team a chance to go out there and try to compete,” Gonzalez said. “You want to bounce back as a pitcher. You don’t want to feel down and out.”
But he still trailed. The Mets scored an unearned run in the second inning after Espinosa made a throw from shortstop that just pulled LaRoche off the bag at first, enough to allow Scott Hairston to reach. Hairston stole second, then scored when Ronny Cedeno singled to right. Bryce Harper at least ended the inning with an outfield assist, cutting down Cedeno at second.
The Nationals tied it in the fourth. Zimmerman flared a ground-rule double into right field, the ball bouncing sideways into the seats along the foul line. When Espinosa walked into the batter’s box, he stood 1 for 18 against Dickey in his career. Espinosa prides himself on playing every day, but last year he gladly sat out against Dickey because he believed facing him would distort the timing of his swing for days to come.