Gio Gonzalez didn't win the National League Cy Young Award but said the award he accepted Thursday night at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame is just as prestigious.
Finishing 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA his first season with the Washington Nationals, Gonzalez was presented with the Warren Spahn Award.
“He's the Cy Young for left-handed pitchers,” said Gonzalez, who finished third in the Cy Young voting. “To be ranked No. 1 for all left-handed pitching in both the American and National League, that's as high as it gets.”
Tuesday's banquet capped an incredible debut season in the nation's capital for Gonzalez, who was traded by Oakland to the Nationals a year ago.
Serving as Washington's ace after Stephen Strasburg was shut down late in the season, Gonzalez helped the Nationals make the first postseason appearance by a D.C. baseball team since 1933.
“To accomplish what we did, where they hadn't made the playoffs in like 100 years, to do it for a city that for a long time was just looking to get a baseball team, it meant so much to all of us,” Gonzalez said. “To represent this award, it means even more.”
Washington moved into first place in the NL East in late May. When September arrived, skeptics wondered whether the Nationals might fade, especially after team officials announced Strasburg would be shut down the final four weeks of the season.
The Nationals clinched a wild-card berth with two weeks left in the regular season and finished four games in front of Atlanta.
“Oh wow, that was special. Words can't describe it,” Gonzalez said. “Then in the playoffs we ended up one out away.”
Gonzalez was referring to Game 5 of the NL Division Series against St. Louis, a game he started, a game the Nationals led 6-0 early.
Washington was still up 6-3 when Gonzalez left after five innings. The Nationals led going to the ninth before the Cardinals staged a memorable four-run rally to shock fans at Nationals Park.
“We had such a great run,” Gonzalez said. “It opened eyes for this year to what everyone is going to be expecting.”
The Nationals' rotation figures to be one of the best in baseball with Strasburg, Gonzalez, hard throwing right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren.
“We have Strasburg coming back healthy,” Gonzalez said. “We have some additions to the bullpen. We have a great center fielder (Denard Span) coming in. We're going to have even more speed and power in the lineup.”
Gonzalez, 27, has a fastball that reaches 94 mph and an outstanding curve, his out pitch. His one issue is control. Gonzalez's 91 walks last season were the most in the NL. In Oakland, he walked 264 in just under 500 innings.
In the Game 5 loss to St. Louis, Gonzalez walked four in five innings, which forced him to exit early after throwing 110 pitches.
“In the past (generations) you could go up to 200 pitches,” Gonzalez said. “You walk people to get to other (hitters). I'd rather pitch to the guy behind Barry Bonds. There are different ways of pitching. It's being a smart pitcher. That's what Warren Spahn was.”
Asked if he knew much about Warren Spahn, Gonzalez rattled off Spahn's history.
A 17-time All-Star. Cy Young winner who won 363 games. War veteran who won a purple heart.
“He was in an era when I was a twinkle in my Dad's eye,” Gonzalez said. “The era he was in, he opened the door to the knowledge I have now. He has so many great numbers.”
The Spahn Award was created in 1999. Randy Johnson and C.C. Sabathia have won it three times. Now Gonzalez's name is on the list.
A first-round pick in 2004, the 38th overall selection, Gonzalez blossomed last season after going 38-32 in four seasons with Oakland.
The Nationals gave him a vote of confidence before he threw a pitch at Nationals Park, signing the Florida native to a five-year $42 million extension.
“To win an award like this means everything,” Gonzalez said. “To bring this back to D.C. and let them know I represent all left-handed pitchers to a team that believed in me from the beginning this is all due to them.”