MIAMI — Gio Gonzalez took the mound Monday filled with emotion while thinking of his extremely pregnant wife and his late friend Jose Fernandez.
Soon he was thinking about a no-hitter, too.
The Washington Nationals left-hander held the Miami Marlins hitless until the ninth inning, when Dee Gordon led off with a clean single , and Sean Doolittle got the final three outs for a 1-0 victory.
Gonzalez’s wife is back in Washington and expected to deliver their second child at any time. To compound his emotions, before the game he met Fernandez’s family , visiting Marlins Park for the first time since the late ace — an off-season fishing buddy of Gonzalez’s — died in a boat crash last September.
Monday would have been Fernandez’s 25th birthday.
"It was a heavy dose of a lot of emotion today," said Gonzalez, a native of nearby Hialeah. "I tried to calm it down. I didn’t want to think about it too much."
Gonzalez (9-5) succeeded, delivering one of the best performances of his 10-year career. He walked three, hit a batter, struck out five and retired 14 in a row during one stretch.
Gonzalez warmed up before the game using a ball bearing Fernandez’s number and initials. But once he took the mound, his emotions didn’t show.
"He was really focused and very calm — the best I’ve seen him," manager Dusty Baker said.
But he tired in the ninth. Gordon singled by sending a soft liner the opposite way to left-centre field on a 1-1 pitch, the 106th pitch Gonzalez threw.
The weary lefty’s attention immediately turned to Doolittle warming up.
"It was like, ‘All right, I’m exhausted, let’s go get the man and close this game out. I want to go home now,"’ Gonzalez said. "If it would have happened, it would have been beautiful. It didn’t happen, but we got the win. That’s the most important thing."
Mindful of Fernandez’s family, Gonzalez waved his glove toward the Marlins’ dugout as he walked off the mound, and he received a standing ovation from the crowd of 18,962.
Doolittle got NL home run leader Giancarlo Stanton to ground into a double play. After Christian Yelich beat out an infield single, Marcell Ozuna popped out, giving Doolittle his fourth save since being acquired from Oakland on July 16.
Gonzalez quickly heard from his wife.
"She texted me saying, ‘You almost put me in labour today,"’ he said. He’s on standby to fly back to Washington and said he would have abandoned his no-hit bid if he had received word she was about to deliver.
The game was the Nationals’ first at Marlins Park since ace Max Scherzer took a no-hitter into the eighth but lost on June 21. There has been only one no-hitter in the majors this year — Miami’s Edinson Volquez threw it at Marlins Park against Arizona.
Jose Urena (9-5) matched zeros with Gonzalez until the sixth, when Bryce Harper’s RBI single put the Nationals ahead. Urena allowed just three hits in eight innings.
The closest Miami came to a hit before the ninth came when shortstop Wilmer Difo made a diving backhanded grab of Miguel Rojas’ soft line drive in the sixth.
Gonzalez made the Marlins look bad at times. To end the sixth he struck out Gordon, who badly missed a breaking pitch while throwing his bat at the ball. Gonzalez scooped up the bat with his glove and handed it back to Gordon as he walked to the dugout.
"I’m just happy he didn’t no-hit us," Gordon said.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly wasn’t pleased with his team’s approach against Gonzalez.
"It was like we were afraid to get a strike on us," Mattingly said. "Quite honestly I thought we did an awful job with him as far as making him pitch. I’m not going to take anything away from him, but we did a really bad job of making him actually throw enough strikes and fighting him off. Just too many easy outs."
Stanton was thrown trying to steal in the first inning when he pulled up nearing second and was easily tagged out. Mattingly said Stanton lost track of the count and thought the hitter had walked.
Nationals: OF Michael A. Taylor (oblique) began a rehab assignment with Single-A Potomac.
Marlins: The team is hoping Volquez (left knee) and LHP Wei-Yin Chen (left arm) will pitch before the end of the season, said Michael Hill, president of baseball operations.
Scherzer (12-5, 2.23) is scheduled to start Tuesday against LHP Chris O’Grady (2-1, 3.68).