Gio gets the ball for game one versus Cardinals

Washington Nationals\' Gio Gonzalez pitches in the second inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Craig Heist, wtop.com

ST. LOUIS – Gio Gonzalez never takes credit for any of his success. It’s just not in his DNA.

When he has a good outing, he will always credit his teammates as a whole, or his catcher, or the bullpen. He brings very little attention to himself.

That’s why you had to chuckle a bit when he was asked during Saturday’s press conference at Busch Stadium what was running through his mind when manager Davey Johnson informed him he would get the ball for game one of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals, his first-ever postseason appearance.

“Backflips, cartwheels, excitement,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a childhood dream.”

Okay, he lost his mind for just a moment. Then it was back to reality.

“At the same time, when we clinched and we had our celebration, all of this was going through my mind,” he said. “I had my time to enjoy the moment, but you have to turn the page and look forward to this team.

“St. Louis is not going to be easy to face. They are mentally ready, they’re experienced, they know what it’s like and remember, we’re still young with this group. We are still learning our experiences, but I think we are just going to have some fun. Hopefully we will go toe-to-toe, but it’s going to be some fun.”

That’s the way Gonzalez approaches everything he does – with a lot of fun.

After finishing the regular season 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA, the 27-year-old is front and center in the Cy Young discussion in the National League, along with the Mets R.A Dickey, and he is about to pitch in the biggest game in his career.

His teammates wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Absolutely,” said Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper. “He has been unbelievable for us all year. Winning 21 games and him going out there and competing and doing his thing, you know, that’s the best we can put out there.”

“There is no better guy to have out there than Gio,” said catcher Kurt Suzuki, who was also Gonzalez’s battery mate in Oakland. “Obviously, 21 wins and pitching like he definitely gives the team a lot of confidence going out there, especially in an important game one.”

Gonzalez knows the Cardinals possess a potent line-up but that didn’t stop him from throwing a complete game five-hit shutout against them for his 17th win back on Aug. 31. He knows he will have to make adjustments from what he did in that game, though, because the Cardinals will.

“This is a team that can bounce back,” he said. “They can make situations happen when they need to and I think that’s my job. What I have to understand is to keep us in the game as much as possible. Let our team go out there and score some runs and watching their game against the Braves, it was very impressive. There is a reason why they have won the World Series before. You have to go out there and try to compete the best that you can.”

One of the reasons Davey Johnson likes having Gonzalez as his game one starter is the fact Gonzalez was just as effective this season against right-handed hitters, as opposed to left-handed swingers.

Right-handers hit just .199 against him, while left-handers hit .231.

“When he is locating his fastball and using both sides of the plate, he’s got a devastating curve ball; I don’t care if they do have all right-handers up there, he’s tough,” said Johnson. “Gio had one heckuva year. I think he had the lowest hits per innings and most clubs that face him stack their lineup with right- handers. I’ll admit, St. Louis has some awfully good right-handers in the middle of their lineup, but you’ve got to make good pitches.”

It is Gio Gonzalez against Adam Wainwright in game one. It should be a fun series.

Follow Craig Heist on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)


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