Phil Wood: Nationals' Gonzalez going for historic victory

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Sports,MLB,Phil Wood

Should Nats left-hander Gio Gonzalez defeat the Braves Sunday night in Atlanta, he'll become Washington's first 20-game winner in nearly 60 years.

On Saturday, Sept. 12, 1953, Senators right-hander Bob Porterfield beat Cleveland 4-3 at Griffith Stadium to notch his 20th victory. He'd go on to win his final two starts of the season to finish the year 22-10. Porterfield went 12-1 over his final 13 starts. He had a 3.35 ERA in 34 games -- including two relief appearances -- and threw nine shutouts in 24 complete games. He totaled 255 innings of work and was named AL pitcher of the year by the Sporting News. Unfortunately for Porterfield, the Cy Young Award wouldn't exist for another three years. Otherwise, he may be a little more well known.

Porterfield, who broke into pro ball with the Class D Radford Rockets of the Blue Ridge League in 1946, passed away in 1980 at the young age of 57. A native of Virginia, he came to Washington in a big trade with the Yankees at the deadline in 1951. He had his best years in a Washington uniform, going 67-64 in five seasons with the Senators.

To find Washington's last left-hander to reach 20 victories, you have to go back to that last pennant-winning season of 1933, when Earl Whitehill went 22-8 with a 3.33 ERA for the AL champions. Earl won his 20th game that year on Saturday, Sept. 9, a 3-2 decision over Chicago at Griffith Stadium. He'd go on to record the club's only victory in the World Series that year, a five-hit shutout at home against the Giants. It was to be the only postseason appearance in Whitehill's career which spanned 17 seasons.

Other than the fact that they're both left-handed, Whitehill and Gonzalez have something else in common: Both men had/have an abiding interest in their coiffures. Whitehill was known for having the best hair among major league players of his day. It's a shame there aren't more photos of Earl with his cap off. He featured dark, wavy locks that really caught the ladies' eye. Whitehill, in fact, was part of what today would be a big-time celebrity marriage. His wife, Violet Geissinger, was the model for the girl on the Sun-Maid Raisins box.

Gonzalez, as you likely heard when the Nats acquired him from Oakland, likes to have his hair trimmed on days he's scheduled to start. A small idiosyncrasy? Sure, but one hard to argue with given his success. He just wants to look extra-clean.

The 2012 Nationals, as a team, stand on the verge of something really special in local sports lore. Individually, Gonzalez may also be able to give most local fans something they likely haven't seen in their lifetimes.

It's increasingly hard to stay totally objective about this baseball team for many of us who were born and bred in these parts. I'm not apologizing.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Phil Wood

Staff reporter - sports
The Washington Examiner