Stephen Strasburg held a one run lead through seven on Tuesday night in AT&T Park in San Francisco only to have the Washington Natonals' bullpen blow a 2-1 lead in the eighth. Gio Gonzalez took the mound on Wednesday afternoon and held the Giants scoreless through seven and 1/3 only to watch his 1-0 lead evaporate in the eighth when the runner he put on with a one-out walk in the eighth scored after Drew Storen had taken over. Neither of the Nats' starters received a decision.
Gonzalez entered the series finale with the defending World Series Champions with a 1.83 ERA, six walks (2.75 BB/9) and 16 Ks (7.32 K/9) in three May starts and 19.2 IP so far in the second month of the season over which he'd held opponents to a .178/.250/.288 line. When he was done for the day he'd lowered his ERA from 4.01 on the year to 3.66 and impressed his manager, Davey Johnson, who praised Gonzalez's effort after the game.
"Gio pitched a heck of a ballgame," Johnson told reporters after the Nationals' 2-1 win. "It was like Stras. The bullpen faltered and -- you know, walking the first hitter, Storen coming in, that's a no-no. But, great win. [Tyler Clippard] did a good job and [Rafael] Soriano did his job. So it makes the trip home easier." As for the reasons behind Gonzalez's success, the Nationals' 70-year-old skipper said the lefty had everything working and had his catcher pushing him.
"He threw his curve ball over a lot, and that was a good pitch for him" Johnson explained, "He was locating his fastball, although some time between innings [Kurt] Suzuki was getting all over him. 'When I say come in, come in.' But it was fun to watch and I really didn't even want to hook him when I had to. He had a four-hitter going and a shutout, but it was the right situation and unfortunately we didn't get a win for him."
The Nationals finished their 10-game trip to LA, San Diego and San Francisco 4-6 with a 24-23 record overall. The Nats are 4.5 games behind the NL East's first place Atlanta Braves and just a game ahead of the resurgent Philadelphia Phillies, who've won seven of their last ten to pull within one game of .500 at 23-24 heading into this weekend's three-game series in the nation's capital.
"It's going to be a good flight back home," Gonzalez told reporters after the game, echoing the sentiments expressed by his manager. "Especially the way these guys played. They played their hearts out. They battled all the way to the end and the bullpen kept us in the game and that's how it's supposed to be. We came out on top and especially against a team like that. They're really good, so you just have to try to minimize the damage as much as possible and give us a chance."
Thanks to 20-year-old Nats' slugger Bryce Harper's 12th home run and tenth inning run scored, Gio Gonzalez's start wasn't squandered as Strasburg's had been the night before. Though the Nats ended the trip a game above .500 and snapped their four-game losing streak on Wednesday, Davey Johnson wasn't happy with how things went on the trip. "This was a great road trip to get through," Johnson said, "Glad to be going home and coming home with a win. A tough one."
Explaining the struggles the team has endured, the Nationals' manager said it's still a problem with the offense. "Again, our offense has just been down," the skipper said, "We've got a whole bunch of guys that need to start stepping it up and I think we'll do that when we get home."