MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Gio fans 12 as Nats close in on NL's best mark

Lefty sets career high for K's; magic number down to one after split

Gio fans 12 as Nats close in on NL's best mark

WASHINGTON -- Left-hander Gio Gonzalez was dealing Thursday night as the Nationals won the nightcap of a split doubleheader, 3-0, over the Mets at Nationals Park. In the first game, the Mets downed the Nats, 7-4.

By winning the night game, the Nationals reduced their magic number to clinch the best record in the National League to one. The Nationals (93-65) are battling the Dodgers (91-68) for the top spot. By securing the best record, the Nationals would have home-field advantage through the NL Championship Series.

Gonzalez (10-10) put Washington a step closer from reaching that goal. He had arguably his best start of the season, pitching seven shutout innings, allowing one hit to Daniel Murphy, striking out a career-high 12 batters and walking two. The curveball, slider and changeup were really working on this day for Gonzalez, with his fastball reaching 94 mph.

"I've had some fun outings this year, but I was more aggressive this time in the strike zone," Gonzalez said. "That's a lot of credit to the catcher [Wilson Ramos].We were on the same game plan. We just wanted to attack these guys, especially early in the game. [My teammates] had to be here at 1 p.m. and they had a doubleheader and it's not fair. I wanted to do my best to save the bullpen as much as possible and try to go deep in this game."

Manager Matt Williams said the cooler weather played a role in Gonzalez having his best outing of the season.

"Tonight, he felt really good. He was in command the whole game. He pitched real well," Williams said. "Command-wise, it was his best outing for sure."

At one point in the game, Gonzalez struck out six consecutive batters and had eight strikeouts by the fourth inning. The Mets had a runner in scoring position only once against him and that occurred in the sixth inning, when Ruben Tejada walked with one out and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Tejada was left stranded at second as pinch-hitter Josh Satin struck out and Eric Young Jr. flied out to Jayson Werth in right field.

Ramos was impressed by what he saw from Gonzalez. He went so far as to say it was the best game Gonzalez pitched since he became a member of the Nationals in 2012.

"That's the guy I want to see," Ramos said. "I was waiting to see that guy back. He threw the ball really well. He was amazing on the mound. He was aggressive all game. Every pitch was good, down in the zone, breaking ball broke really good. Change-up worked really good, down in the zone. That was amazing, amazing job from him today."

Gonzalez is getting hot at the right time as the Nationals get ready for the playoffs. Since coming off the DL, Gonzalez's shoulder is getting stronger.

"I like to always think, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. ...Obviously, I missed a month. I just want to come back and do my best to contribute and stay part of this magic that we have going," Gonzalez said. Gonzalez would get the run support in the fourth inning off right-hander Zack Wheeler. With the bases loaded, Tyler Moore hit into a force play, but Werth scored on the play. After Scott Hairston walked, the ball went by catcher Anthony Recker for a passed ball as Ramos scored the second run of the game. With the bases loaded, Anthony Rendon was hit by a pitch, scoring Moore.

"They hit one ball hard the whole night," Wheeler said. "I did walk three guys -- two that inning -- and I did hit a guy. It was one of those games where everything was hitting a hole or just dropping in. It's not the way I wanted to go out this year, but it happened."

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