By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Gio Gonzalez dominated over seven innings and had to wait out a nervous ninth with Brad Lidge on the mound before his first win with the Washington Nationals was secure.
Lidge gave up a double to his first hitter and walked the next batter before retiring three in a row and earning his second save in the Nationals’ 1-0 win against the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.
“Man, one of these times I’ll get a 1-2-3 (inning),” Lidge said. “I’m sure I gave a lot of people a heart attack today. That’s kind of how I’ve done it for a while.”
Gonzalez didn’t acknowledge having any doubts over the outcome.
“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 the last inning.
The late dramatics stood in sharp contrast to the innings with Gonzalez on the mound, when the Astros rarely got the ball out of the infield. Gonzalez (1-0) allowed two hits, walked two and struck out eight in his third start for Washington. The left-hander, acquired from Oakland in the offseason, also earned a standing ovation at the plate when he flied out to the warning track.
It was another close game for the Nationals, who improved to 9-3 — their best start since moving from Montreal to Washington in 2005. Half of Washington’s first 12 games have been decided by one run and the Nationals are 4-2 in those contests.
“It’s not easy on me,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “We’ve got guys who actually like it when it’s close like that.”
Gonzalez gave up a leadoff single to Justin Maxwell, who was later caught stealing second, and didn’t allow another hit until the sixth. After Gonzalez walked J.D. Martinez in the first, he retired 13 straight.
Gonzalez ran into a little trouble in the sixth when he gave up a leadoff single to Jose Altuve and later walked Jed Lowrie to put runners on the corners with one out. Gonzalez credited catcher Jesus Flores for a well-timed visit to the mound to help him get out of the jam.
“He came out to the mound and he goes, ‘Hey, you’re giving in a little bit. Your confidence is going down. Keep it up, and try to pound that strike zone,’” Gonzalez said. “When a catcher does that, all you can do is just boost it up a little bit more.”
Wandy Rodriguez (0-2) nearly matched Gonzalez, allowing one run on five hits in seven innings. Rodriguez lost his second straight despite not walking a batter and striking out three.
The Nationals eked out their run on a pair of two-out bloop hits in the fourth.
Gonzalez drew a big cheer after lifting his long fly in the third inning.
“I’m not a hitter. I’m just trying to put the ball in play,” Gonzalez said. “I was fooled on the curveball, then he came with a fastball and I was like, ‘All right, let me see if I can at least make contact.’”
The pitcher, who got his first major league hit in his last start, smiled as he returned to the dugout.