His first name sounds like an economy car. And Tuesday night at Nationals Park, Gio Gonzalez drove the Nats past the Houston Astros in an economic effort. Pitching seven innings of two-hit ball, Gonzalez set the tone for a 1-0 victory that lasted just 2 hours, 12 minutes, sending a crowd of 17,886 home early.
With Tyler Clippard and Brad Lidge working a scoreless, though shaky, inning each to preserve Gonzalez's 91-pitch, eight-strikeout masterpiece, the Nats (9-3) continued their impressive start built on pitching and just enough offense.
The Nats' lineup produced just five hits, but two were well-placed and well-timed -- back-to-back with two out in the fourth inning. It was all Gonzalez (1-0) needed.
Jayson Werth got the first, which landed between the Houston shortstop and two outfielders, and he hustled into scoring position. Five pitches later, Adam LaRoche dumped another looper into left field, bringing Werth home with the game's lone run.
A night after getting a similar game-winner from Steve Lombardozzi, the Nats were feeling charmed. But manager Davey Johnson didn't apologize for the run.
"We actually like it when it's close like that," Johnson said. "Good teams win close ball games."
There was nothing lucky about the work of Gonzalez, who showed why the Nats were willing to part with four prospects to bring him to Washington. Mixing his sharp curve, fastball and change-up, Gonzalez was in command throughout. He retired 13 straight during one stretch and allowed a runner past first base only once.
Jose Altuve opened the sixth inning with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by losing pitcher Wandy Rodriguez (0-2) and to third on a wild pitch with two out. But Gonzalez induced a bouncer to shortstop by J.D. Martinez.
"I was pounding the strike zone, especially when I was behind on the count," Gonzalez said. "When you have all three pitches working like that, it's going to help you along."
The only anxious moments for Gonzalez came when Johnson went to his bullpen. Set-up man Clippard, coming off a rough outing Sunday in a loss to the Cincinnati Reds, yielded a leadoff bunt single by pinch-hitter Jordan Schafer. But Clippard got the next three outs, scrambling off the mound to take an infield hit from pinch-hitter Jason Castro and fanning Justin Maxwell with a 93 mph fastball, stranding Schafer at second.
In the ninth, Brad Lidge got his second save but only after yielding a leadoff double down the right-field line to Jed Lowrie and a four-pitch walk to Martinez. Lidge got consecutive soft flies to center from clean-up hitter Carlos Lee and Chris Johnson before Travis Buck grounded out.
"Man, one of these times I'll get them 1-2-3," Lidge joked. "I was pretty [ticked] off at myself for not coming out there and doing better. ... But that's the bottom line, you have to kick in the focus there or else it's too late."
It was another day of stellar starting pitching and clutch relief work for the Nationals, who throw Jordan Zimmermann (0-1) Wednesday night against Houston (4-7) and Lucas Harrell (1-0).
"Hopefully we can continue riding this horse and take it really far," Gonzalez said. "The way we're going our confidence is sky high."