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NATIONALS: Gio Gonzalez All Smiles After 3-2 Victory In Home Opener

By ZAC BOYER | | @ZacBoyer

WASHINGTON – As optimistic as they come, Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez wasn’t going to let anything wipe the ear-to-ear smile off his face Thursday afternoon at Nationals Park.

He pitched seven strong innings, allowing only two hits, walking none and striking out seven. He even picked up his first hit, a windswept floater down the left field line in the fifth inning.

While a blown save by Brad Lidge erased Gonzalez’s bid for his first win of the season, it didn’t ease his excitement – especially after the Nationals came back to defeat Cincinnati, 3-2, in the home opener when Ryan Zimmerman scored on a wild pitch in the 10th inning.

“If you’re not smiling, you have no blood then,” Gonzalez said before, appropriately, unleashing that radiant grin.

It was that kind of day for the left-hander, who was adored by the sellout crowd of 40,907 before it sent him off with a standing ovation. He gave up seven hits and allowed three earned runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Chicago Cubs last Saturday, but came back to bedevil the Reds in his home debut.

And it was that kind of game for the Nationals (5-2), who yet again won in late innings despite taking a 2-0 lead in the fifth off a two-run single by Adam LaRoche.

With Lidge on for the save in the ninth and the bases loaded, Zimmerman misplayed Ryan Ludwick’s grounder down the third base line, letting it squeak past him and into left field to bring home Joey Votto and Scott Rolen and tie the score.

Zimmerman was shaded to his left, ready for a double-play ball that, with one out, would have ended the game. Instead, he went two steps too far, and his attempt at a backhanded snare – uncharacteristically, his second misplay of the day – led to two runs.

“I expect him to make all the unbelievable plays,” manager Davey Johnson said. “When that ball was hit down his way, I was happy as a clam. Then a tough hop.”

Zimmerman made up for it later, scoring the winning run on a wild pitch by Cincinnati reliever Alfredo Simon. With Roger Bernadina at the plate, Simon’s splitter went down in the dirt and squirted away from rookie catcher Devin Mesoraco, and Zimmerman trusted his instincts, took off for home and beat Mesoraco’s underhanded lob to Simon.

“Obviously, the ball has to go away enough to where you think you can make it, because Bernie hit three balls hard today, so I’m not gonna take the bat out of his hands,” Zimmerman said. “But any time you get a chance to end the game, you just kind of get a read and trust your instincts.”

That was also the key for Gonzalez. His control, which has long been considered a weakness, was impeccable. His velocity, rarely a concern, topped out at 96 – in the sixth inning. And for someone who hadn’t had a hit in a meaningful game since he was in Philadelphia’s minor league system in 2006 – well, he could use a few pointers when it comes to baserunning.

Gonzalez left the game having thrown 97 pitches, and it was the first time in 91 career starts he didn’t issue a walk and his team still won.

Craig Stammen, who was a low curveball away from pitching a perfect 10th inning – three batters, 10 pitches, three strikeouts – earned his first win of the season, while Simon, the former Orioles closer, took the loss.

LaRoche finished 2-for-5 with two singles and Ian Desmond went 3-for-5 with a run for the Nationals, who chased Reds starter Mat Latos out of the game after the fifth after tagging him for five hits.

Except for in the ninth, Cincinnati (3-4) never had a chance. Gonzalez liked that.

“I feel like I gave the fans what they wanted to see,” Gonzalez said. “I’m super excited about what happened today and definitely our team was very excited, too. They’re all pulling for it. Nobody wants to fail here, and everybody wants to continue to do good for this team. To see that puts big smiles on everybody’s faces.”


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