“Oh, I’ve heard it all year from other teams,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “Guys get down to first and say there’s absolutely no break in this rotation. And it can be a miserable feeling. You run into an offense that’s struggling a little bit, and our staff definitely doesn’t help.”
Saturday, the Nationals’ final 15 batters failed to reach base, but they produced enough offense off Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who made his season debut after undergoing Tommy John surgery. LaRoche clobbered his 10th homer of the season. Michael Morse drilled an RBI, ground-rule double. Ian Desmond smacked a game-breaking, two-run single.
The Nationals needed the cushion as Gonzalez faltered late and the Red Sox rallied. But for the most part Gonzalez dominated, rebounding from a rare clunker against the Atlanta Braves in his last start.
Gonzalez entered with a league-leading 5.4 hits allowed per nine innings, having yielded two or fewer in five of 11 starts. Then he retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced, only four of those balls leaving the infield.
“His curveball was late and he was throwing it for a strike,” Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “His fastball’s really good, too. He’s 95 with movement. He’s got great stuff. Both those last two guys we’ve faced are No. 1s. The last two guys were pretty darned good.”
The Nationals’ infield defense adds another layer to the challenge. In their second year together, Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa have become one of the best middle infields in the majors.
“Those two are incredible,” LaRoche said. “There’s been a lot of balls where, especially early on, I kind of gave up on thinking it was a base hit. I’d find myself having to bust it over there [to first]. Now I know if it’s on the ground, I better get there.”
Saturday, Desmond made two sparkling plays. He charged one slow roller and made a smooth, running throw. In a shift against David Ortiz, Desmond sprinted to the right side of the infield and made a throw across his body for the out. Espinosa added a leaping, full-extension catch to rob a single with a runner on second. Teammates have traded awe at their highlights for shock when they don’t make the play.