NEW YORK — As Gio Gonzalez took off for the plate, legs churning, arms flailing, it suddenly became obvious to everyone inside Citi Field that the Nationals pitcher had no idea his drive to deep left-center had been ruled a home run. The ball was no longer in play.
So, when exactly did Gonzalez finally come to that conclusion?
“When I touched home," he said. "I think it was the fastest home run jog in baseball."
If it wasn't the fastest, it might well have been the funniest. Gonzalez's solo blast in the top of the fifth, the highlight of the Nationals' 5-1 victory over the Mets, was unconventional to say the least.
Start with the fact the left-hander had crushed Bartolo Colon's pitch more than 370 feet to left-center field, a rarity in and of itself. Throw in several switching of gears around the bases — he was in a slow trot coming out of the box, then turned it on running to second, then stopped, then ratcheted it up again on his way to third base as the ball lay untouched in left field, then found an even higher gear once he rounded third and saw the finish line within reach.
Then wrap things up with some interaction with a group of fans sitting in the front row right behind the plate — more on that in a moment — and a combination of laughs and gasps for air as Gonzalez returned to a raucous Nationals dugout.
"That was epic," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "That’s gonna go down in the memory bank for a long, long time."
The reason Gonzalez felt he needed to sprint? He never saw second base umpire Todd Tichenor give the home run signal, confirming the ball did clear the wall in left-center. All he saw was the ball, which had ricocheted off a railing above the fence, sitting untouched in the outfield, with the Mets' Andrew Brown not bothering to track it down.
"I was just trying to get a double out of that, and I see the ball rolling all the way, and I saw the left fielder slowing down and I was like: 'Wait, what is going on here?' Gonzalez said. "[Third base coach Bobby Henley] is telling me: 'Run it! Run it! Run it! Keep going!’"
Not until Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud held his arms up did Gonzalez realize he could safely slow down. He was only a few steps from the plate at that point, though, so he just kept going, then started interacting with fans in the front row behind the plate.
"That was my brother, which was even more impressive," Gonzalez said. "Of all the places, you see him right in front of you. 'What are you doing here?'"
Gonzalez's performance on the mound — six innings of 1-run, 3-hit ball — was far more conventional and helped set the tone for the Nationals' second straight win over New York to open the season.
But the play that will be remembered long after the other details of this game are forgotten surely will be Gonzalez's mad dash around the bases, an inside-the-park homer trot on an outside-the-park blast.
"Even the bullpen guys were telling me: 'You were running away like you were running from the cops!' the lefty said. "I was like: 'I don't know what that's about but, I guess I know what it is now.' It's cool when you have everyone cheering like that and having some fun with it."