“Thank God we won,” Zimmerman said. “It would have been hard for me to sleep tonight.”
Following Gio Gonzalez’s dazzling Nationals Park debut, a ninth-inning disaster that enhanced angst over Drew Storen’s extended absence and a wasted opportunity to avoid extra innings, the Nationals won when Alfredo Simon bounced a two-out wild pitch. On a chilly day, under a blue sky before a sellout crowd of 40,907, the Nationals won their third straight game and, one week into the marathon season, took control of first place in the National League East.
Some things stayed the same, like Teddy losing in the Presidents’ Race. (“What’s the poor guy got to do to get a win?” Jayson Werth asked.) But the Nationals’ 5-2 start gave them their best start since baseball returned to Washington, letting Zimmerman sleep easy after a hard day.
It could have been simple. Gonzalez fired seven scoreless innings, striking out seven batters while he allowed two hits, walked none and knocked the first hit of his career to boot. After struggling to find control last week in Chicago, Gonzalez peppered the strike zone with 94-mph fastballs and hairpin backdoor curves on Thursday.
Twice, Gonzalez struck out 2010 MVP Joey Votto swinging at a fastball on the outside corner. He threw 64 of 97 pitches for strikes and worked to three balls only three times, not once from the second through the sixth. He gave catcher Wilson Ramos effusive praise afterward, after calling off only one of his signals all day.
“They welcomed me with great open arms here,” Gonzalez said. “The fans showed a lot of love. What better to do than give it back?”
Gonzalez constantly disparaged his own hitting this spring, but he started the first Nationals rally. He lashed a line-drive single to left and smiled his way to first base, looking into the Nationals’ dugout at the other starting pitchers. He started a rally that ended with Adam LaRoche’s bases-loaded, two-out, two-run single.
The Nationals carried their 2-0 lead into the ninth. Earlier in the day, Storen had chatted with reporters, his spirits high but his arm in a sling, about how he had hoped to hold off surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow until the offseason. Instead, he will miss about two months, during which time the Nationals will hand the closer’s job to Henry Rodriguez and Brad Lidge.
Wednesday, it was Lidge’s turn. Lidge walked Votto with one out, and “whenever you have a two-run lead, you don’t want to walk anybody,” Lidge said. Scott Rolen smashed a double to left, and Lidge intentionally walked Jay Bruce to load the bases.