Craig Heist, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - He takes very little credit when he pitches well -- but it was hard to ignore what Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez did against the Houston Astros on Tuesday night in a 1-0 win at Nationals Park.
Gonzalez was nothing short of spectacular as he mowed down the Stros', throwing shutout ball over seven innings and allowing just two hits while striking out eight batters.
Now, Gonzalez has throw a total of 14 innings in his last two starts and hasn't allowed a run, giving up just four hits while walking four and striking out 15 -- lowering his ERA to 1.96.
The only run Gonzalez needed came in the bottom of the fourth inning when with two outs, Jayson Werth hit a blooper into center field off Wandy Rodriguez that dropped in front of ex-National Justin Maxwell.
This was followed by a bloop RBI single to left by Adam LaRoche that fell when left fielder J.D. Martinez and shortstop Jed Lowrie miscommunicated on a ball that should have been caught.
"The real story was (catcher Jesus) Flores doing a great job behind the dish, defense doing a great job all around and the offense bringing in that run," Gonzalez said.
But this night was still about Gonzalez. He retired 13 straight Astros at one point and, during that stretch, he struck out four of the six batters he faced and three were called.
"I think it was just going with Flores," Gonzalez said. "Every pitch he put down I was trying to attack with that. There was the time in the sixth when he came up to the mound and he said, ‘Hey, you're giving in a little bit. You're confidence is going down just keep it up and try to pound that strike zone.'" Well, if Gonzalez doesn't want to take any credit for the way he pitched, his manager certainly didn't hold back.
"It was an outstanding game," said skipper Davey Johnson. "He had a great change-up, good fastball, outstanding curve that was tough on left-handers and he just made it look easy."
Johnson took Gonzalez out after throwing 91 pitches, 57 for strikes.
"A guy pitching that kind of ballgame, I don't give him an opportunity to lose it," Johnson said. "I didn't want to start the inning that if anyone got on, I would have to hook him. I had Clip, so that was good enough reason for me.
Tyler Clippard had a relatively easy eighth inning after giving up a leadoff infield single but the nail-biting started in the ninth when Brad Lidge came on to protect the one run lead.
Lidge allowed a lead-off double to Lowrie and then walked Martinez to put two on with no out.
Lidge then gathered himself and got both Carlos Lee and Chris Johnson to fly to center field and then Travis Buck ended the game by grounding out to LaRoche.
"Obviously, I'm just happy it worked out and we got the win for Gio who threw great again," Lidge said. "It was another tight ballgame and you can't make a whole lot of mistakes in games like that and he didn't. He coasted through his seven innings and did an outstanding job."
"I was trying to be cool, calm and collected with a big smile on my face, knowing he was going to shut it down," Gonzalez said of Lidge. "When you get positive vibes, you are going to go out there thinking positive and the best things are going to come out for you."
The close games are always better when you win them and in many cases, veterans like Lidge make it interesting and at the same time, drive the manager crazy. "It's not easy on me," Johnson said. "But we have the guys that actually like it when it's close like that. It puts more on every at-bat and every pitch. We're playing game right now that's kind of like in a pennant race and they stay in you good stead for later on in the season. Good teams win close ballgames."
Good pitchers do as well and Tuesday night, Gio Gonzalez was very good.
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