Chants of “Let’s go Gio!” as the ninth inning began. A Gatorade shower and shaving cream pie to the face that came moments later. Thumping music in the clubhouse after another lopsided victory. And then applause from those remaining players watching the Braves blow a ninth-inning lead to the Phillies.
These are the sights and sounds of a pennant race, and Washington is smack-dab in the middle of one right now.
A 10-0 whitewashing of the Cardinals Friday night gave the Nationals as many wins as they posted in all of 2011—one shy of the club record—with 31 games still to play. Atlanta’s meltdown shortly after extended Washington’s lead to 6 1/2 games and lowered the magic number for the NL East title to 25.[...]
Sure, there was that minor bump in the road earlier in the week, that five-game losing streak that left many around town wondering whether it was time to panic. Then Davey Johnson closed the clubhouse door in Miami before Wednesday’s game, rallied the troops with an upbeat, positive speech and all they’ve done since is terrorize whatever poor opponent had the misfortune of sitting in the other dugout.
In three games since that meeting, the Nationals have outscored the Marlins and Cardinals 24-5 and put to rest any doubts that may have been creeping up during the losing streak.
“That’s what a great manager does,” Gio Gonzalez said. “A great manager sees a little glitch in the system, he fixes it up and gets us back going. That little speech he had for us was one of a kind.”
Perhaps nobody took the message more to heart than Gonzalez, who suffered one of the losses during that streak but returned Friday night with perhaps his most dominant performance of the season. Scattering four singles, a double and two walks, the left-hander notched the first shutout of his big-league career, finishing this one off on his 119th pitch of the evening.
And he did it with one notable distraction in his field of vision: His mother.
Yes, seated right behind the plate was Yoly Gonzalez, cheering on her son throughout his milestone performance and yelling at St. Louis’ batters and Washington’s fielders alike.
“I was like: ‘Oh god, somebody’s got to keep her quiet over there,’” Gio Gonzalez said.