The Washington Nationals were facing elimination. They had dropped two of the first three games to the St. Louis Cardinals this past October in the NLDS and they were heading into Game 4 after being soundly beaten 8-0 in the first postseason game in the nation's capital in 79 years in Game 3. Things looked bleak. Behind the scenes, however, there was one player who never wavered. 27-year-old, 21-game winning left-hander Gio Gonzalez was confident that he would get an opportunity to make a second postseason start in Game 5. After the Nats beat the Cards on Jayson Werth's walk-off blast (Werthquake!) the Nationals' then-69-year-old manager Davey Johnson told reporters that Gonzalez had assured him all week that they would play live to play another a day. "Gio was telling me days ago, 'We're going to five; we're going five,'" Johnson said, "'Skip, don't worry about it, we're going [to] Game 5!'"
"And today," the Nats' skipper continued, "He said, 'What did I tell you? What did I tell you?'"
After a 5.0 inning outing in Game 1 of the NLDS in which he walked seven and gave up one hit and two earned runs, Gonzalez turned in another five innings in the decisive Game 5 with the Cardinals, leaving the game with Washington up 6-3 on St. Louis. In his first postseason action, in his fifth major league season, the former Oakland Athletics' lefty, acquired by the Nationals in a December 2011 trade, had a 4.50 ERA, 4.39 FIP, 9.00 K/9 and 9.90 BB/9 in 10.0 innings on the mound. Gonzalez finished his first season in the National League and the nation's capital at +5.4 fWAR, 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 IP.
Earlier this Spring, Gonzalez received an invitation to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and he jumped at the opportunity as he told reporters yesterday in a pre-start press conference in which he sat side-by-side with US team Manager Joe Torre talking about tonight's game against Puerto Rico's WBC team. "Well, to think about it," Gonzalez explained, "a small town kid from Hialeah, Florida, pitching for Miami and representing Team USA, that says it all. It's a kid's dream. I grew up watching this man right here leading the Yankees to the World Series, and now to be a part of it and actually be playing for him, don't pinch me, I don't want to wake up."
In order for the Nationals' left-hander to get the opportunity to represent his country in the WBC, the US team had to beat Canada on Sunday night. Gonzalez was sure he'd get the chance. He told reporters yesterday he kept telling Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty he knew he'd get the chance to pitch in Miami. "I kept telling 'Cat', 'I'm going to Miami, I'm going to Miami. I don't care what you tell me, I know that Team USA is going to pull this and they're going to go get this win and get me down to Miami to play.'"
"In fact, I was so confident that they were going to go out there and win yesterday," Gonzalez said, "that after my bullpen [with the Nationals] I took a trip down to Miami and I was ready to go." Gonzalez sat in a local restaurant in his home town and watched the US team win. "Yeah, I was in Flanagan's in Hialeah watching this game, and I was just going nuts just having some chicken wings and some water. Other than that, I was ready to go."
At 8:00 pm EDT tonight, the Nationals' left-hander will get his chance to start for Team USA against Puerto Rico. Gio Gonzalez will try to follow up on teammate Ross Detwiler's strong outing on Saturday night. In front of his hometown crowd, the Nats' starter will represent Miami, Florida, the nation's capital and the country as a whole. Gio Gonzalez and the U.S. team vs Puerto Rico... Who's watching the WBC?
• Here's Team USA's Lineup vs Puerto Rico: