Just when it looked like it might be another long night against a dominant left-hander, Anthony Rendon got hold of an 0-2 fastball inside from Cliff Lee and drilled a line drive home run to left in the top of the fifth that hit a fan in the left field stands in the head and put the Washington Nationals up 1-0 over the Philadelphia Phillies in the third game of the Nats' four-game series in Citizens Bank Park. Wilson Ramos hit a 1-0 fastball from Lee out to right in the next at bat to give the Nationals a 2-0 lead and back-to-back home runs by Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth in the sixth made it 4-0 after six in a game that ended up a 5-1 win.
"That's more like it," Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said when he met with reporters after the game. "I mean, Gio [Gonzalez] pitched a heck of a ballgame. He got a little wild there in one inning, but he made great pitches all night, and the offense -- I really liked the way we took BP today. We were aggressive in BP and we took it into the game, it was great." Rendon, in particular, impressed the Nationals' manager, especially with his hand speed as he turned the fastball inside from Lee around.
"He's just got good hands," Johnson said of Rendon, who went 2 for 4 with a home run and a double, leaving him with a .303/.354/.461 line, 12 doubles and four home runs after 40 games and 165 plate appearances. "They've been pounding him in. Even in BP, he was more aggressive in BP. He knows what they're trying -- he's no dummy -- and he was working on getting that head out. And he knew -- I mean, he's no dummy. He went to Rice University. So he's got to have something up top. And he's done that a couple times now with two strikes, when they try to come in on him, hit balls out of the ballpark."
The Nationals' 70-year-old manager was adamant that what he saw in batting practice from the Nats this afternoon in CBP translated into success in the game. Asked what was different than what they did any other night, Johnson explained. "Sometimes we come into batting practice and we look like we try to hit everything to right field. Today we were hitting it on the rooftops in left, you know, and we really knew who was out there, we knew he was going to come in on us, he would throw the fastball and come at us and the guys approached him that way and that was a great way to approach him."
"They got the head out," Johnson continued. "He throws that cutter in on them -- and they got the head out on it. And that's what you've got to do with him. You can't let him jam you. He pitches a lot inside, uses his fastball, goes right after you and that's what I was really pleased with, the way we approached him."
Wilson Ramos went the other way with a fastball outside for an opposite field blast to right, but Rendon, Zimmerman and Werth hit home runs to the left of center field on pitches Lee, who'd allowed just nine home runs in 131 2/3 IP before giving up four tonight, was trying to get inside when he was ahead in the count in the at bats with Rendon and Zimmerman and on the first pitch he threw to Werth.
"That's when he really likes to throw that cutter in," Johnson said, "and we were ready for it."
Rendon and Ramos were a combined 4 for 8 with two home runs in the seventh and eighth spots in the lineup tonight. Since coming off the DL, Ramos has been a power source at the bottom of the lineup, going 9 for 20 since July 4th. Johnson said having two sluggers down in the order lengthens the lineup. "There's no question about it," Johnson said, "and that creates a lot of opportunity for the guys in the front of the lineup, but they've been swinging the heck out of it and we just keep them healthy, we'll be fine."
The offense produced, even if it was mostly solo home runs, and the pitching was equally impressive, even though Gonzalez threw a lot of pitches. Gonzalez threw 6 2/3 scoreless before Darin Ruf hit a two-out home run on a 2-0 fastball in the seventh. Davey Johnson was confident enough in Gonzalez's stuff that he sent the lefty out for the inning at 98 pitches and stuck with him as he gave up the two-out blast and back-to-back singles before retiring Ben Revere on a fly ball to left. Johnson said Gonzalez's last few starts have reminded him of the 21-game winning left-hander from 2012.
"It does, and today -- he threw 110 pitches the time before and what was it today? 117? But he was still -- he threw one fastball the last hitter he faced, 96 mph, so he still had a little in the tank."
Gonzalez didn't have much more of a leash at that point, however. "[Revere] was his last hitter," Johnson said, "I was going to bring in [Tyler] Clippard to face [Jimmy] Rollins, if he didn't get the left-hander. And I had so much confidence. The left-hander is hitting about .360 against left-handed pitching, but I liked the way Gio pitched him, so I stayed there." Revere had a .369/.379/.492 line against left-handers before tonight. He was 1 for 4 against Gio Gonzalez.