The Washington Nationals scored six runs on nine hits, six of them RBI singles in the first two innings against St. Louis Cardinals' right-hander Adam Wainwright in the Cards' starter's first of two outings against the Nats this season. That first one was in D.C.'s Nationals Park back on August 31st. After the sixth RBI single and ninth hit overall, the 31-year-old pitcher issued a two-out walk to Jayson Werth and was lifted with two out in the third inning. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson was impressed with what the Nationals' offense was able to accomplish against Wainwright after a stretch of games in which they'd struggled to score.
"It was great," Johnson said, "That's one of their best pitchers and sending him after two and some change, threw 80-something pitches... " Asked if the team had made a concerted effort to drive up Wainwright's pitch count, the Nats' skipper said, "No," but noted that obviously, "When you get nine hits in three innings it usually gets up there. But there [were] some quality at bats. He was not as sharp. [We] laid off pitches, although we were swinging [at] a lot of curve balls out of the zone." Wainwright's line that day: 2.2 IP, 9 hits, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 Ks, 86 P, 56 S.
Gio Gonzalez, in his first career start against the Cardinals, threw his first career complete game shutout that day, allowing just three walks and five hits in a 119-pitch effort in which he earned his seventeenth win of the year. The Nats' 27-year-old left-hander retired the first nine batters that day and 12 of 14 without allowing a hit before Cards' catcher Yadier Molina doubled to start the fifth. Gonzalez gave up four singles over the next four scoreless, and put two on with one out in the ninth before he retired the final two batters of the game.
Davey Johnson joked afterward that his starter was reaching the 120-pitch limit he had in mind for Gonzalez that night, but said he hadn't hesitated to send him back out to start the ninth at 100 pitches and had considered letting him keep going even as he got up toward the limit. "Otherwise I'd have had Gio hassling me all week," the manager said.
Gio Gonzalez missed the Cardinals in the second series of the year between the two teams in the Nats' next-to-last series of the year in late September in Busch Stadium. Wainwright faced the Nats again in the first game of the three-game set. The veteran of seven MLB seasons and 151 starts made his 151st, and his last this year, against the Nationals that day, holding Washington to one run on five hits in a 12-2 win on September 28th in which the Cardinals roughed up Edwin Jackson and effectively ended the game in the second.
The win that day left Wainwright (4-3) in 10 games and eight career starts against the Washington Nationals in which he's posted a 3.60 ERA with 16 walks (2.88 BB/9), 50 Ks (9.00 K/9), a 1.40 WHIP and a .270 BAA in 50.0 IP. Wainwright ended his seventh major league season (14-11) with a 3.94 ERA, a 3.10 FIP, 52 walks (2.36 BB/9) and 184 Ks (8.34 K/9) in 32 starts and 198.2 IP. Gio Gonzalez won his 17th game in the 8/31 complete game shutout of the Cardinals and finished the 2012 campaign (21-8) with a 2.89 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 76 walks (3.43 BB/9) and 207 Ks (9.35 K/9) in 32 games and 199.1 innings on the mound, putting himself in the conversation and arguably the lead for the Cy Young Award in his first season in the National League following the trade that brought him to D.C. last winter.
Gonzalez makes his first career postseason appearance tomorrow at 3:07 pm EDT in Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where Carpenter will oppose the Nats' lefty for the second time this season in what will be the former Atlanta Braves' 1st Round pick's 10th postseason appearance, his first since 2009 and only his second as a starter. Though Gonzalez did manage to hold the Cardinals scoreless over nine innings, St. Louis finished the year with the NL's best team AVG (.276), OBP (.338) and the second-best SLG (.450) against left-handed pitchers this year.
The Nats' lefty held right-handed hitters to a .199/.276/.285 line, however, and lefties didn't fare much better, posting a .231/.307/.353 line on the year. Asked if he was concerned about either of his left-handers, Gonzalez or Ross Detwiler, who was named the game four starter this afternoon, facing the Cardinals, Johnson told reporters today, "If you look at the records, right-handers had just as much trouble hitting Gio as left-handers, and when he's locating his fastball and using both sides of the plate, and he's got a devastating curve ball, I don't care if they have all right-handers up there. He's tough."
"Gio had one heck of a year," Johnson continued, "I think he was the lowest hits per inning*, and most clubs [that] faced him stacked their clubs with right-handers. I'll admit, St. Louis has got some awfully good right handers in the middle of their lineup, but you've got to make good pitches." Cards' skipper Mike Matheny praised Gonzalez too, and agreed with Johnson it was all about execution on both sides.
"[Gonzalez is] good," the Cardinals' manager said today, "there's no getting around it. As far as our approach, we understand that each guy is different, each one of our guys on our offense has to have a very clear approach of what he wants to do and needs to do in order to try to be successful, but we go into every game from here on out knowing that we're not going to get a guy up there that's going to make a lot of mistakes. And so it's a matter of execution. Execution either from the pitcher on their side or our guys sticking with the game plan and sticking with their strong suits and not deviating."
As for a blanket approach to facing Gio Gonzalez, the first-year bench boss (who is 28 years younger than his counterpart on the Nats' bench) said you couldn't really have one with a pitcher as good as the Nats' starter or any pitcher good enough to pitch at this level. "They're all too good, and they make adjustments," Matheny said, "Or they wouldn't be in the big leagues, one, and they wouldn't be pitching in the playoffs, two. So, we have a lot of respect, but we also believe in ourselves."
Gio Gonzalez wasn't putting much stock in his one outing against St. Louis earlier this season as good as it was, explaining that he was going to have to, "... be alert," saying that he's, "... going to have to change the game plan a little bit," since he was, "... sure they're not going to go out there with the same mentality." The left-hander made clear, however, that his first career start is something he's really looking forward to. "It's every kid's childhood dream who wants to play baseball," Gonzalez said, "To represent not only D.C. and the Washington Nationals and the players that have played in this uniform."
Adam Wainwright is in his first year back following Tommy John surgery and in his first playoff run since 2009, and he said today he grew a lot over the time it took him to work his way back. "Just as a competitor and as a man just feeling blessed to a baseball player professionally for a living," Wainwright said, "I mean, I've learned to appreciate that a lot more and this game I get to play is very special to me."
The two pitchers will face off in the first game of the NLDS tomorrow in Busch Stadium in St. Louis with Gonzalez starting the first game for a D.C.-based franchise since 1933. The St. Louis Cardinals won their third World Series the year after the last postseason appearance by a team from Washington in 1934 and the franchise has made 20 trips to the playoff since then, winning nine World Series Championships while the nation's capital has waited for 79 years to have a team make it back. Washington, D.C. is back in the postseason, they finished first in the NL East and no.1 overall in the National League and at 3:07 pm EDT in the home of the defending World Series champs they try to make their own run.
Fans of the Nationals are about as excited as Gio Gonzalez was when he first learned he'd start Game One of the NLDS. Asked for his initial reaction, and what went through his mind when he learned he'd be starting, Gonzalez said, "Backflips, cartwheels, excitement."
That sounds about right.
• Watch Gio Gonzalez's Press Conference from St. Louis:
(Note: " * = Gio finished second in H/9 behind Clayton Kershaw actually, 6.720 to 6.727)