Jun 22, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
There was no no-hitter this time. It wasn’t even a complete game. But what Gio Gonzalez turned in Sunday as a follow-up to Max Scherzer’s gem may very well have been his most efficient and effective start of the season.
Buoyed by a nine run first inning — one he helped contribute to with an RBI double — the lefty starter hurled seven shutout innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates on just 85 pitches to help lead the Nationals to a 9-2 victory.
On a normal day, that’d be considered a really solid outing. But when you’re the guy who pitches less than 24 hours after your rotation mate throws a no-no, even the very good can seem ordinary.
“It was a tough act to follow,” he said afterward. “I just one-upped [Scherzer] on the hit. That’s all I did.”
Regardless, Gonzalez’ performance capped off what was a memorable and historic Father’s Day Weekend for the Nats’ rotation. He, Scherzer and rookie right hander Joe Ross combined for 23 1/3 innings of work with 25 strikeouts, three walks and just one earned run allowed between them. As a whole, Washington’s staff set a club record with 24 consecutive scoreless innings pitched before Pittsburgh scored two runs in the ninth.
“That’s unbelievable,” right fielder Bryce Harper said of the feat. “Starting with Joe Ross then going into the weekend and seeing Maxy do what he did…hopefully we can keep it going as a team. Hopefully we can keep it going as a staff.”
It’s a common saying in baseball that momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. But Gonzalez and other members of the Nats’ clubhouse might beg to differ, as they suggested that the afterglow of a big-time performance or two can linger.
“We just carried it over into today,” first baseman Clint Robinson said. “[We’re] playing with a lot of confidence these past three games. I think Gio fed off of Max and went out there and threw a good ball game.”
“Joe was the guy who anchored for us and started us off,” Gonzalez added. “Maxy, just an unbelievable game. He was fun to watch, every pitch. You didn’t mind sweating your butt of because he was pitching his butt off and it was fun to watch because Maxy’s incredible. It was just Mad Max doing whatever he does best, just going out there and dominating. It was kind of tough to follow up on his act.”
The rotation’s efforts helped the Nats sweep the previously red-hot Pirates and get Washington back into first place in the NL East. And though Herculean stretches like this past weekend’s can’t be expected every time out, it’s obvious that the unit’s consistency and health are the keys to the club’s hopes for a second straight division title.
“It’s just one of those things of the game where when you get good starting pitching and all the hits start falling,” said Robinson, “it just makes it fun so you can go out there and win ballgames.”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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