Nats back Gio's 18th victory with six home runs

Nats back Gio's 18th victory with six home runs

Nats back Gio's 18th victory with six home runs
WASHINGTON -- Left-hander Gio Gonzalez is considered a happy-go-lucky guy. He always has a smile on his face and loves to joke around with his teammates in the clubhouse.

On Wednesday night, however, Gonzalez wasn't joking around on the mound, as he pitched seven shutout innings and helped the Nationals shut down the Cubs, 9-1, in front of 21,244 fans at Nationals Park.

On Friday against the Cardinals, Gonzalez pitched a five-hitter and struck out eight. He was just as good on Wednesday, allowing three hits and striking nine. In the first five innings, Gonzalez allowed just one baserunner. Josh Vitters reached first base on a throwing error by shortstop Ian Desmond in the third.

Three innings later, the no-hitter was broken up when Darwin Barney led off with a single past third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. But Barney was stranded at first. As well as Gonzalez pitched, manager Davey Johnson wasn't going to let his left-hander complete his second consecutive game because he threw 119 pitches against St. Louis.

"I didn't want him to go quite that far," Johnson said. "I still would have hooked him [if he had a no-hitter]. He might have fought me. I wasn't worried about that. It was depending on how he was throwing."

Gonzalez downplayed his performance, giving his teammates the credit for getting him his 18th win, tied for the most in the Majors.

"It wasn't definitely my night. It was the team's night," Gonzalez said. "These guys were swinging the bat. You look at the way they were going about it. We did that again [Wednesday], so it seems like we are locked in. We are looking at something and we are staying on track.

"I think the way these guys performed tonight, the way they always performed every night, every start that I go out there, it feels like they give me their best in Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers."

With 18 wins and a 2.98 ERA, Gonzalez is considered a National League Cy Young Award candidate, but he has his sights set on something else.

"I want to continue to win for this team, continue to stay healthy and strong, keep battling and get some more wins for them," Gonzalez said. "We are playing such great baseball. I think it's selfish of me to think [about] myself."

For the second consecutive game, the Nationals acted like they were the 1927 Yankees, hitting six home runs. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Nationals became the third team in Major League history to hit six home runs in consecutive games.

"I knew we had the talent to hit," Johnson said. "When we hit that lull in Colorado, I think we are hitting .237 as a team. Now we are up over .260. It's not one or two guys. It's everybody."

Two of those six home runs on Wednesday came off the bat of Bryce Harper.

Right-hander Chris Volstad started for Chicago, lasting five innings and allowing five of the nine runs.

In the first, Roger Bernadina scored on a single by Adam LaRoche.

Two innings later, Washington batted around and scored four runs, all on home runs. Bernadina led off and homered over the center-field wall. Harper then came to the plate and smoked a home run over the left-center-field wall.

After Zimmerman singled to center field, LaRoche hit his 28th home run, a two-run shot over the left-field wall.

Washington scored its sixth run in the sixth off Michael Bowden. With one out, Harper hit a mammoth shot that landed in the second deck in right field. It was Harper's second multi-homer game of his career. Since 1918, the only players younger than Bryce Harper to twice hit two homers in a game were Mel Ott and Ken Griffey Jr.

Chicago's Blake Parker was on the mound in the seventh, allowing back-to-back home runs to Desmond and Danny Espinosa to make it 8-0. Before the inning ended, Alberto Cabrera walked Zimmerman with the bases loaded to force home Kurt Suzuki.

"We are really swinging the bat well," Espinosa said. "I don't think anyone is trying to do too much right now. We are just feeling good. We are having a lot of fun. It's always fun to go out there. When everyone is hitting and our pitching is throwing as well as they are, it's awesome."

With the victory, the Nationals are 84-52 and remain 7 1/2 games in front of the Braves in the NL East. The magic number for the Nats to win the NL East is 19.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.