On what would have been just the 25th birthday of Jose Fernandez, his family friend of Cuban heritage, Gio Gonzalez, took the mound in his hometown Miami and was spinning a no-hitter to start the bottom of the 9th inning. Gio’s pitch count was at 103 and this looked doable. First, Gio needed to get through the top of the potent Marlins batting order of Dee Gordon, Giancarlo, and Yelich. ESPN and MLB Network both interrupted their regular broadcasting to show this “live”.
Unfortunately, the no-no was broken up quickly to begin the 9th inning by Dee Gordon. What a performance by Gio Gonzalez! There was still a game to be played and this was very reminiscent of a late inning Scherzer potential no-hitter against the Marlins on June 21st of this year in which Scherzer stayed in the game after giving up a hit in a 1-0 game, and lost the game. On this night, Nationals manager Dusty Baker wisely took the baseball as soon as the no-no was no longer and went to his closer in a tense 1-0 game. At this point, it was all about “win preservation”.
Sean Doolittle came in to face Giancarlo Stanton representing the winning run, and on the third pitch Doolittle got Stanton on his splitter to ground hard to Adrian Sanchez who was playing a no-doubles defense at 3rd base, and the grounder came right to him as he turned a 6-4-3 doubleplay. Christian Yelich then got an infield hit to raise the drama meter, and Marcell Ozuna stepped into the batter’s box representing the winning run. Doolittle induced a harmless infield pop-up to end the game and a well-earned 4th save as a Nat.
The only run of the game came in the 6th inning from the combination of a leadoff Brian Goodwin booming double that missed a HR by a foot or two. Wilmer Difo bunted Goodwin to 3rd base, and Bryce Harper hit an oppo single for the only run of this game, and it was the game winner!
The Nationals only accumulated 3-hits in this game. It was a pitcher’s duel with some great defense. José Ureña pitched well for the Marlins in a game that felt like a post-season game. Gio Gonzalez just happened to be better. Gonzalez’s ERA dropped to 2.66, and Gio is 4th in the Major’s behind only Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Chris Sale.
The Nationals improved to 63-41 and increased their lead in the NL East to 14.0 games in the division.
“[Gio] was really focused and very calm,” Dusty Baker said. “The best I’ve seen him, and the longest I’ve seen him. We were all hoping for it. Nobody was saying anything, but he knew it, the fans knew it, everybody knew it.”
“He seems very focused and driven. He wanted to make the All-Star team, and after you come close to one, you’ve got to make another goal. I’m sure that Gio wanted to pitch here at home in front of his home boys. He gave us everything and more that we could have asked for.”
It wasn’t just the birthday of Jose Fernandez weighing on Gio’s mind, it was also the impending birth of Gio’s own second child with his wife Lea that could have happened at any moment, and Gio made it clear that if he got the call he would have exited the game early to head to the hospital. Fortunately that call never came. “She texted me saying: ‘You almost put me in labor today!’…” Gonzalez said. Emotions were high for Gio who pitched in front of the Fernandez family on Gio’s friends from nearby Hialeah cheered him on.
“I tried to tone it down [in this game],” Gio Gonzalez said. “Don’t let this be too much overpowering the game and what you’re doing. I can understand, too, from [the Marlins] side. Today was a very emotional day. They know what’s going on. I’m sure for all of us it was one of those games you just want to if we can all sit down and just kind of like chit chat about the good times with José [Fernandez] more than going up against each other and trying to play baseball. I think it’s a different story when you have to put that kind of in perspective and play the game.”
Gio’s teammates all wanted to talk about this performance.
“You know, he’s an emotional wreck out there all the time,” Bryce Harper said. “That’s just Gio. That’s the way he is. Everybody knows that. But I love the way he pitches.”