In the tunnel that leads from the Washington Nationals’ dugout to their clubhouse, Michael Morse and Jerry Hairston ducked into the team video room. Side by side, each player watched a replay of himself striking out, consecutive plate appearances in the fifth inning that conspired to strand what could have been Washington’s first run at third base.
“Take this at-bat, get rid of it,” they told one another after watching the monitor. “Get it out of your mind. Our next at-bat, we’re going to do something special.”
In their next at-bats, Morse and Hairston delivered hits that lifted the Nationals to a 2-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants before an announced 15,342 at Nationals Park, a win that pushed them back to .500 on the season. They still had a chance to do something special because of Tom Gorzelanny, the latest Nationals starter to walk to the mound, defy baseball’s expectations and dominate an opposing lineup.
In his best start with the Nationals, Gorzelanny fired a three-hit masterpiece, pitching eight innings for the first time since Aug. 12, 2007 while walking none and striking out four. The first 12 Nationals batters recorded an out against Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, and they never worried. Only five major league teams have scored less than the Nationals, but they have grown accustomed to their offense going missing and staying in the game, anyway. Monday, Gorzelanny’s dominance ensured another chance to win.
“Pitching,” Manager Jim Riggleman said, “is what gives the whole club confidence.”
Gorzelanny tossed one of the best games of his career, shrinking his ERA to 2.93 using just 95 pitches in eight innings. He retired 15 straight Giants at one point, and until the eighth inning Aaron Rowand, who led off the game with a double and later singled, was the only Giants hitter who managed a hit off him.
“I wasn’t trying to trick guys,” Gorzelanny said. “I was trying to let guys hit the ball. I’m not trying to strike guys out or set up guys. I’m trying to throw strikes and make quick outs. That’s been my main thought each time I’m out there.”
Gorzelanny continued a streak that he began, becoming the sixth straight Nationals starter to pitch at least six innings and allow two or fewer runs. The Nationals’ rotation posted a 2.18 ERA over their seven-game homestand, which they capped by winning three in a four-game series against the defending World Series champs. For the season, the Nationals’ starting rotation has a 3.38 ERA, which would have ranked sixth in the majors entering Monday.
“It’s been everything,” Hairston said. “For us to be .500 the way we’ve started off slow swinging the bats, our pitching staff has kept us right there. They’ve been outstanding and just giving us the chance to win — and that’s how you start to win.”
Gorzelanny kept the Nationals in the game, and they finally snapped a scoreless tie in the seventh inning. Wilson Ramos sparked the rally with a two-out groundball to third base that snuck under Miguel Tejada’s glove for an error. When he came to the plate, he had the only hit of the night by the Nationals, a double in the fifth that broke up Bumgarner’s perfect game.
Riggleman penciled Ramos into the fourth spot in the order, making him the first rookie in the majors this season to bat cleanup. The past two winters, when he played in Venezuela, Ramos hit cleanup. He is a rookie catcher, but the job is not too big for him.
“When I got here early, I saw the lineup, and I saw my name,” Ramos said. “I was very happy for that. I’m going to get a good opportunity.”
After Ramos reached, Ian Desmond ripped a single to right, sending Ramos to third. Up came Morse, who in the fifth had struck out with one out and Ramos standing on third.
“Same approach,” Morse said. “Just go up there relaxed, try to hit.”
Bumgarner threw a first-pitch slider down the middle, and Morse shot it back up the middle on the ground, into center field. Ramos walked across with the first run. Hairston, who in the fifth had stranded Ramos at third, shot a double to right-center. As Desmond scored, Morse sped to third, then looked back at Hairston.
“We looked at each other,” Hairston said. “We kind of smiled.”
Their hits had redeemed them and put the Nationals ahead for good, giving Drew Storen a chance to close it out in the ninth. If not for more great pitching, they knew, they could have meant nothing. Instead, they meant everything.