WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 12: Catcher Kurt Suzuki #24 talks with pitcher Gio Gonzalez #47 of the Washington Nationals in the fifth inning while taking on the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 12, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Before Friday's Game 5 between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals, reliever Tyler Clippard said this about Gio Gonzalez:
“Gio has been one of the best, if not the best, pitcher in the game this whole season. He has really hit his stride in his career as far as he knows what he is capable of. For him to come back home, to pitch in front of this crowd in a big game like this, I think he relishes in those moments.”
The Cardinals, on the other hand and as expected, saw things differently.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz's took an in-depth, oral history-like look at Friday's historic game from the Cards' point of view and it's a worth a read (that is, if you have the stomach for it), but it was the part of the column that discussed the beginning of the comeback that was the most interesting.
"[Chris Carpenter] says right away, 'Boys, this is going to be an epic comeback. Just epic,'" [Skip Schumaker said]. "And he kept saying that over and over. Then I started thinking the same thing. I started buying in on it. I started saying it, too. Then everyone started believing. We were just as loud as we could be."
A turning point came in the top of the fifth inning. Encouraged by batting coach Mark McGwire, the Cardinals began taking pitches to make Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez sweat. Gonzalez, who seemed to be feeling the pressure, began obsessing over ball-strike calls by home plate umpire Angel Marquez.
The Cardinals could see Gonzalez weakening, and that fired them up. As one Cardinal said, "Gio looked like he didn't want to be out there. The guy has a 6-0 lead, then 6-1, and he's panicking out there. We smelled blood."
St. Louis cut Washington's lead to 6-3 before Gonzalez made his exit after five innings. I'm sure I don't need to refresh your memory on what happened next.
Was Gonzalez's confidence the first thing to go in what ultimately turned into a record-breaking collapse? Like the long-term effects of Stephen Strasburg's shutdown, I guess we'll never know.
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