When a Washington Nationals player reaches a milestone, makes a debut or something of that sort, Dusty Baker spruces up the lineup card and gives it to him as a souvenir. Baker has given out a lot of lineup cards this season: for first big league saves, first big league wins and milestone homers. He had wanted to give Gio Gonzalez one to commemorate his 100th win for more than two weeks, but after two inconsistent outings and some poorly timed precipitation, he had not had the opportunity to do so.
Gonzalez almost certainly will get the lineup card from Friday night’s 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies, pitching six strong innings for his first win in three tries. He got three big gold balloons from his family after the game, inscribed with a one, a zero and another zero. He got a picture with his son, Enzo, wearing a black hat with a “100” emoji on it. And his Nationals got their 75th win of the season.
“I’m happy I did it here with this organization,” Gonzalez said. “Oakland gave me an opportunity, and Washington helped me continue that opportunity, and I couldn’t be happier to do it with these colors and represent the Washington Nationals. They’ve been great to me and my family, and I couldn’t be happier with the crowd and group of guys I’ve been around for the last five seasons.”
Gonzalez has adopted a post-start policy in which he hands off all credit for his success and shoulders all blame for his team’s failures — all of which goes to show an elevated 2016 commitment to saying the right thing and fading into the 25-man roster as a 30-year-old veteran fighting for consistency. So with that in mind, what did his 100th win mean to Gonzalez?
“It means congratulations to Daniel Murphy on his 500th RBI. That’s a special night, too,” said Gonzalez, who went on to congratulate catcher Jose Lobaton, who played Friday, and Wilson Ramos, who did not.
When Gonzalez breaks character and is willing to self-evaluate, one thing he laments is his tendency toward generosity: When the Nationals score runs for him, he hates to give them back, and that is one of the reasons he had not won that 100th start entering Friday night.
Against highly touted rookie Jeff Hoffman, Jayson Werth gave Gonzalez a lead in the first inning with a solo home run on a hanging curveball. Werth now has 18 home runs, his most in a season since 2013. Gonzalez gave it back the next inning.
An inning later, Trea Turner’s speed generated a run when he hit a groundball to shortstop that forced Cristhian Adames to rush his throw. Adames threw the ball away, so Turner took second. A pickoff attempt bounced away. Turner took third. He scored on a groundball. The Rockies scored a half inning later, another lead gone.
The fifth inning proved significant, not only because completing it meant he had pitched deep enough into the game to earn that milestone win but because for the first time all night — and the first time in his past eight tries — Gonzalez did not allow his opponent to score after the Nationals scored for him. After Anthony Rendon hit a leadoff double and scored in the fourth, Gonzalez needed only 10 pitches to get through the fifth. When Murphy hit his 25th home run of the season to grab that 500th career RBI in the bottom of the inning, Gonzalez threw a scoreless sixth.
“I think it’s just trying to get back to focus. That’s one thing [Mike Maddux] was telling me about, just make sure you execute your pitches and finish what you’re doing,” Gonzalez said.
“Same thing, you see Murph all three times at second base just like, finish that inning, finish that inning. So it’s a big situation when you can go out there and try to hold down their middle of the lineup power and try to keep close games.”
Gonzalez’s evening ended after six because his spot in the order came up with two on and two outs. Baker pinch-hit for him. Gonzalez left after allowing four hits and two runs with one walk and five strikeouts — in position for No. 100.
“He had a very, very good breaking ball and located his fastball well, especially down in the zone. That’s the key to his success, not getting runners on base or not walking people,” Baker said. “And he had a very good game tonight, excellent game.”
Thanks to Turner’s second infield hit of the game, Werth’s second RBI of the night and Bryce Harper’s first triple of the season, the Nationals piled on in the seventh. Harper, who doubled earlier in the game, did not have more than one extra-base hit in a game from April 23 to mid-August. He now has two such games in the past 12 days.
For a moment, it looked as if Shawn Kelley might stake a claim to that lineup card when he stepped to the plate for the first time in eight seasons in the eighth. He struck out, then allowed a three-run home run in the ninth, though the Nationals had a big enough lead to absorb it. In what had been a blowout, Baker chose Mark Melancon to get the final out and used all of his late-inning options — including the newly acquired Mark Rzepczynski, who made his first Nationals appearance.
“We had to shut it down right then because you don’t want to bring Melancon in in trouble, and you have to shut those guys down,” Baker said. “They can score a bunch in a hurry.”
Their effort clinched the milestone and the lineup card for Gonzalez, who is now 100-75 in his career, 62-43 with the Nationals and 30th among active pitchers in career wins.