Apr 24, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) pitches against the San Diego Padres during the first inning at PETCO Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Game 17: Nationals 3, Padres 1


Why do we even play the first six innings? It’s not like the Nationals offense uses them anyways….

Last night saw the Nationals offense silenced through six innings yet again, but clutch late-inning hits by Chad Tracy and Rick Ankiel guided the team to a 3-1 victory over the San Diego Padres. However, these players may have never had their chance to perform in the clutch had Gio Gonzalez not pitched so well.

Although Tracy never ceases to amaze me, it was Gonzalez who made this win possible. When the offense was struggling, Gonzalez stepped up and pitched six innings of shutout baseball, giving up only two hits. Though he did not last as long as opposing starter Clayton Richard, the work he put in through s6 was more impressive. Gonzalez finished with 6 strikeouts and only 2 walks.

Henry Rodriguez would then come on for the save, nabbing his fifth in as many chances. H-Rod has answered almost all the questions about his reliability so far this year, not blowing a save and stepping up to fill the shoes of Drew Storen. Hopefully this trend continues and Rodriguez hits that high ceiling that he’s capable of.

Richard pitched 6.1 innings of 3-hit baseball, issuing 5 walks and allowing two runs. Richard matched Gonzalez’s 6 strikeouts, but took the loss, pushing his record to 1-2. The bullpen came in and allowed no earned runs through 2.2, the only run being an unearned one in the ninth against Ernesto Frieri. However, not much more could’ve been asked of the Padres bullpen, as they kept the game close and struck out a combined 4 batters across the 8 batters they faced.

As always, the offense came alive late, and as always, it was Chad Tracy saving the day. After a double by Xavier Nady to kick off the top of the 7th, Wilson Ramos reached on a walk, and a Stephen Lombardozzi sacrifice bunt moved both runners up, setting up Tracy with 1 out and runners on second and third. A single to shallow right plated both runners and gave the Nats a desperately needed 2-run cushion with a few innings to go.

The second run would prove to be crucial as the Padres would strike back with a run of their own in the bottom half of the inning. A bases-loaded fielding error by Jayson Werth would plate Cameron Maybin, bringing the Padres within one. Craig Stammen got out of the inning with no further damage, finishing the day with 1 IP, 1 walk and no strikeouts, giving up just the 1 unearned run.

But now it was Ankiel’s turn to do some damage. After a scoreless 8th inning for both teams, Wilson Ramos reached first on a one-out fly ball to right field, and a throwing error by Will Venable would advance Ramos all the way to third. After a Lombardozzi strikeout, Ankiel came in to pinch hit for Sean Burnett with a man on third and 2 down. Ankiel delivered, dropping a single into shallow center and giving the Nationals a 3-1 lead that would prove to much for the Padres in the bottom of the 9th.

Champ of the Game: Though Gio Gonzalez pitched well, he would not have won had Chad Tracy not plated those two 7th-inning runs. Tracy has been perhaps the best bench player in the league to this point.

For the Padres, Clayton Richard went a solid 6.1 innings only allowing 2 runs. Richard also struck out 6 and gave up only 3 hits.

Chump of the Game: Adam LaRoche stranded 3 runners in the game, which could have turned into three desperately needed runs early in the ballgame.

For the Padres, Will Venable made the throwing error that set up the third Washington run. Perhaps the Padres could have come back had the run not scored.

For the Marlins, it was Sanchez, who eschewed a sure out for a potential double-play, and turned it into an error that ultimately cost the Marlins the game.

Unsung Hero: Rick Ankiel’s RBI may get overlooked since it was effectively not needed. However, a 2-run cushion always makes a closer feel more comfortable than a 1-run lead.

The Padres bullpen kept the team in it late, issuing only one unearned run.

Next Game: Wednesday, April 25, against San Diego, 6:35 p.m. at Petco Park. Jordan Zimmermann (0-1) vs. Joe Wieland (0-2)

Tags: Chad Tracy Clayton Richard Featured Gio Gonzalez Popular Rick Ankiel San Diego Padres Washington Nationals