All eyes in Fenway Park on Saturday may have been on Daisuke Matsuzaka, but it was his mound opponent who came out on top.
Gio Gonzalez pitched scoreless baseball into the seventh inning, spoiling Matsuzaka’s return to the majors and helping the Washington Nationals to a 4-2 win over the Boston Red Sox, clinching another series victory.
Gonzalez (8-2) tossed up zeroes for six innings before fading slightly in the seventh. The lefty allowed two runs on three hits and two walks while striking out five and moved back into second below teammate Stephen Strasburg at the top of the National League strikeout chart.
The Nationals jumped ahead early yet again, this time on a second-inning home run by Adam LaRoche, his 10th of the season. LaRoche drove the first pitch he saw from Matsuzaka (0-1) into the Red Sox bullpen for a 1-0 Washington lead.
Matsuzaka was making his first major league start since reconstructive elbow surgery and had mixed results. The 31-year-old Japanese righty fanned eight Nationals in his five innings of work, but ran into trouble in the fourth.
Bryce Harper led off by drawing a four-pitch walk and went to third on a hit-and-run single by Ryan Zimmerman. After LaRoche whiffed, Michael Morse poked a double into the right field corner to plate Harper and up the Nats lead to 2-0. Ian Desmond followed with a sharp single to right to score two more runs, making the score 4-0.
Gonzalez was able to hold that lead until the seventh. A one-out walk to Will Middlebrooks and a single by Mike Aviles ended Gonzalez’s day, and reliever Craig Stammen loaded the bases by walking pinch-hitter Ryan Sweeney. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia coming up, lefty Mike Gonzalez was summoned and he promptly surrendered a two-run single off the Green Monster. But the veteran Gonzalez rallied, fanning Daniel Nava looking and inducing a foul pop up by Dustin Pedroia to end the threat.
Champ of the Game: Gio Gonzalez. While the strikeouts weren’t off the charts, Gio had a standard low-hit outing before the bullpen took over. For Boston, Saltalamacchia gets the nod for his two-run pinch-hit single in the seventh.
Chump of the Game: Steve Lombardozzi. The rookie didn’t look comfortable against Matsuzaka, fanning twice in three at-bats before coming out in favor of Tyler Moore in the eighth. For the Red Sox, Nava put up an 0-for-4 line with a key strikeout in the seventh that helped defuse Boston’s only rally.
Unsung Hero: Ian Desmond. In addition to the two-run single, Desmond made a couple of nice plays at shortstop, including throwing out David Ortiz from the wrong side of second base thanks to Washington’s shift defense. For Boston, Franklin Morales shut Washington down after Matsuzaka left, throwing three perfect innings of relief and striking out three.