In Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez’s mind, the conditions of Saturday’s game at Nationals Park were practically normal. The blistering heat was almost a comfort for Gonzalez, accustomed to the humid and hot summers of south Florida. And while some starting pitchers in baseball receive IVs of fluid to help battle the oppressive summer heat, Gonzalez staunchly refuses it.
Gonzalez, an all-star, powered through the sweat and the temperature that reached 105 degrees during the game. He allowed only one run on three hits and picked up his 12th win of the season and guided the Nationals to a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
“I didn’t get an IV, absolutely not,” said Gonzalez, of Cuban-American descent and from Miami, laughing. “I think it’d be insulting to our Latin heritage.”
This Nationals team, on pace to win 97 games, has surged into first place in the National League East thanks to the play of Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper — who was named an all-star on Saturday — and Ian Desmond, who pulled out of his first all-star game because of a nagging injury to his side. Tied for the major league lead in victories, Gonzalez has been perhaps the team’s most consistent force.
With the Washington area going through a heat wave, players loaded up on electrolyte-filled drinks before the game and filled themselves with water at every chance they could. The day before, Strasburg needed an IV before the game to help keep him hydrated.
While uncomfortable, the heat didn’t destroy Gonzalez. He did labor slowly through the first two innings, struggling to locate his fastball and sending his pitch count high. He took his time between pitches. But, as he has been all season for the Nationals, he churned through innings.
In 17 startsthis season, only twice has Gonzalez not pitched at least five innings. Consistency has become expected from Gonzalez, for whom the Nationals sent four of their best prospects to the Oakland Athletics in the offseason.
“I don’t know what kind of run support he got over there in Oakland but he’s certainly been stingy giving up runs here and hits,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s been very consistent. He’s been fun to watch.”
Gonzalez’s 12th win tied a Nationals record for most wins before the all-star break. The last Nationals pitcher to accomplish the same feat was Livan Hernandez, who went 12-3 in 2005 before the all-star break. While Hernandez needed 19 starts, Gonzalez did so in 17.
“Gio has been great,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “Every fifth day, he goes out there with a lot of energy.”
On Saturday, Gonzalez worked through the Rockies lineup, allowing three hits, only two for extra bases. The only run he allowed came on a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning. Once he found his groove in the third, he was more efficient. He needed 102 pitches to get through six innings, striking out six batters and walking three. He used his full arsenal of pitches, relying on his change-up more than before.
“His curveball was outstanding today,” Johnson said.
That pitch, which has claimed many opposing batters, fooled Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez. He did not look like one of the best young hitters in baseball, who entering the game had a .339 average and 17 home runs.
After the game’s first batter, Dexter Fowler, reached on a single, Gio Gonzalez faced Carlos Gonzalez with one out. After Carlos Gonzalez fouled off two fastballs, he swung and missed on a curveball.
Two more times, Gio Gonzalez hoodwinked Carlos Gonzalez. In the third inning, with a runner on first base with two outs, Gio Gonzalez threw a first-pitch curveball for a strike but missed on the next two pitches. He fired a fastball for a strike and tossed yet another curveball that Carlos Gonzalez missed. Carlos Gonzalez’s third strikeout of the game came — no surprise — on another curveball. Overall, four of Gio Gonzalez’s strikeouts ended with his knee-buckling curveball.
Nearing 100 pitches in the sixth inning, Gonzalez walked Michael Cuddyer with one out, and he worried he would be given the hook then. He finished the inning, leaving the game tied at 1. He wanted to stay in, but Johnson wouldn’t allow it.
“He didn’t want to leave the game tied,” Johnson said. “And I said: ‘Well, you’re done. You’re not talking me out of nothing.’ ”
Gonzalez was buoyed by an offense that attacked starter Jeff Francis in the sixth inning and took advantage of a handful of errors by the Rockies, who entered Saturday with only 32 wins, tied for the fewest in baseball.
Danny Espinosa led off the sixth with a double to right field and Harper followed with a single. Zimmerman drove in his 40th run of the season with an RBI single to center field. Facing Michael Morse, Rockies reliever Josh Roenicke unfurled a wild pitch that allowed Zimmerman to take second base. The subsequent errant throw by catcher Wilin Rosario plated Harper. The inning’s third run scored when Roenicke, facing Tyler Moore, tried to pick off Desmond at first but threw the ball away.
The runs were enough to give the Nationals the lead and hand Gonzalez the hard-earned win. But for him, really, it wasn’t too tough. The hot-weather expert even offered some friendly tips during the game.
“You gotta learn how to pitch, stay in the cool,” he said. “I was telling the ump a little bit to put an ammonia towel over your head in between innings.”