"You don't see a lot of left-handers that can go 92, 94 [mph], and pitch it in," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had a very, very good changeup tonight, and also the breaking ball's in play, so that's a lot to cover."
By the bottom of the sixth inning, Gonzalez was given a 4-1 lead against Pirates left-hander Erik Bedard.
The Nats opened the scoring in the first inning, when Bryce Harper tripled and Ryan Zimmerman grounded out to shortstop Clint Barmes, with Harper scoring on the play.
Two innings later, Ian Desmond homered to give Washington a 2-0 lead. But the Pirates cut the lead in half in the fifth inning, when Josh Harrison singled to center field, scoring Yamaico Navarro.
Washington would then use the long ball to add to its lead in the sixth inning. LaRoche and Xavier Nady hit consecutive home runs to make it a 4-1 game. For Nady, it was his 100th career homer.
The milestone was special for Nady, because he's been through a lot of injuries during his 11-year career, including two surgeries that required elbow reconstruction.
"With all the injuries that I've had, I'm thankful I've been able to put the uniform on to run out there," Nady said. "It's a lot of fun. It has been a grind to stay on the field."
Pittsburgh, however, made it a one-run game in the seventh inning, when Harrison hit a two-run homer over the left-field wall. It was the first homer Gonzalez allowed in 58 innings.
"I was more aware of falling behind again. He is a good hitter," Gonzalez said about Harrison. "That's the one guy you don't want to fall behind. ... He has quick bat speed. I tried to attack the zone as much as possible. I didn't want to fall behind and put us in a bigger hole. When he hit the ball, you tip your hat to him. He did his job."
But it was LaRoche who broke the game open against reliever Evan Meek. With the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, LaRoche roped a three-run double near the right-field line. It was also career hit No. 1,000 for the first baseman. A lot of memories flooded through his head as he was getting a standing ovation from the 25,942 fans.
"It was pretty special," LaRoche said. "My first thought was my first big league hit back in 2004. And then kind of flashing back to all the teams I've been on. Some of those real memorable hits. All the teammates I've played with. It was pretty special, and then to do it here at home, and with the win on top of it. [Nady] getting his 100th home run, it's such a perfect night."
LaRoche has clearly been the Nationals' best hitter.
Entering Thursday's action against Pittsburgh, LaRoche is leading the team in almost every offensive category, including home runs and RBIs. Not bad considering he missed most of last season because of a shoulder injury.
"The most frustrating part was, I pretty much had to cheat in the box to get the bat to the ball," LaRoche said about last season. "This year, I have my strength back. It has made a huge difference."
It was only last offseason that the Nationals were thinking about signing then-free agent Prince Fielder to replace LaRoche. It's a good thing they stood pat at first base.
"I don't look at what's going on outside, and feel like I better come here and prove the salary or prove [that I can play] after missing [most] of the year last year," LaRoche said. "But deep down as a competitor, I wanted to come back and prove that I can come back from surgery and do what I know I'm capable of doing. To come out and do it is nice reassurance."
The final run of the game came with Tyler Clippard on the mound for Washington in the eighth inning. Casey McGehee hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Jose Tabata.
The Nationals improved their record to 23-14 with the win.