Gio Brilliant In Nats Walk Off Win

New Nats’ lefty Gio Gonzalez pitched brilliantly in the Nationals’ home opener today, holding the Reds to two hits in seven complete innings — but it took a Cincinnati wild pitch in the 10th inning for Washington to notch their third victory in a row. The Nationals are now 5-2 and lead the N.L. East.

This game’s headliner was Gio Gonzalez, who was in control from the start. Hoping to make up for his first start (an uneven outing filled with command issues), Gonzalez wowed the home town sell-out crowd of 40,000-plus. While he didn’t notch the win, he gave up just two hits, struck out seven, and walked no one. Nats’ fans got to see first hand his killer curve, and how Cincinnati hitters flailed away at it without making contact.

The Nationals entered the 9th inning with a 2-0 lead, with Brad Lidge coming in to secure the save. But, after securing the first out, Lidge gave up a walk and a double before intentionally walking Jay Bruce to fill the bases. Ryan Ludwick then singled, scoring Joey Votto and Scott Rolen. Lidge was tarred with his first blown save of the season.

“It’s probably the toughest [to lose the lead], because of the way Gio pitched,” Lidge said after the game. “He deserved the win and, unfortunately, I couldn’t keep the lead for him. He had an outstanding game. The guys came through and bailed me out. We were able to scratch one across there. If we keep winning, I’ll be happy. I know I need to do a little better than today.”

Very few of the hometown crowd left the game after the 9th — knowing that the 2012 version of the Washington Nationals is not only a much different team than last years, but also has a shot at the playoffs. As if to emphasize how much the team has improved, former starter and hometown Ohio boy Craig Stammen set down the Reds 1-2-3 in the 10th. He struck out Harris, Stubbs and Cozart, throwing ten pitches, nine of them for strikes.

The Nationals were able to pull out the victory in the bottom of that frame, when Reds’ reliever Alfredo Simon (he was in Baltimore last year), threw a wild pitch past Nats’ hitter Roger Bernadina. Ryan Zimmerman, who had a rough game in the field (a throwing error in the 3rd and a ball he should have gotten to in the 9th), scampered home with the winning run.

Once again, the Nationals showed that, at least in the early going, they can score runs when they need to. Ian Desmond continued his torrid early season pace (he was 3-5), Adam LaRoche seems to have broken through his traditional early season slump (he was 2-5 with two RBIs), and Jayson Werth continues to hit the ball well — he’s hitting .296 in the early going.

It was a relieved Zimmerman who faced the press after the game, and alluded to his ninth inning coulda-woulda-shoulda: “Thank God we won that game, because if we would have lost that game, I couldn’t sleep tonight,” he said. “They are not routine plays like they call them, but I expect myself to make those plays. Thank God, we won. You can kind of forget about it and laugh about it now. Moving forward, I obviously have to make those plays.”