WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, the Washington Nationals will play the first playoff game in Washington in over eight decades .
And for players like Ryan Zimmerman, who has been with the team for seven long years, the National's turnaround this year has a lot to do with ace pitcher Gio González.
With the acquisition of the Cuban starter, Zimmerman and the franchise received a much needed boost to a team that had finished last in the NL East five times during its first seven seasons in the nation's capital.
Zimmerman had seen highlights of their new starter and heard of his accolades as a member of the Oakland Athletics, but until spring training, had never had the opportunity to know González, the person.
From the get go, the All-Star's presence in the Nationals clubhouse and on the mound was one of major components to the National's stellar season.
"I didn't think (and) not a lot of us knew how happy and I guess infectious he would be," Zimmerman told Fox News Latino. "He comes to the field every day in a good mood. Laughing. Talking to every one."
In a sport with a season that spans up to nine months, having guys with the positivity that González brings to the table is very important.
To me, when your team is performing and playing hard behind you, it's just you've got to do your part and try to keep your team in the game and have some fun.
"You know to have guys on your team like that makes it fun, it makes it upbeat everyday. When you have to play a game every single day for eight months and although it's fun to play baseball, it's a grind. It gets trying sometimes. You go through some bad spells or you go through some tough times. To have a guy like him around is definitely, it improved the culture of this team," Zimmerman said.
Pitcher John Lannan compared González clubhouse shenanigans to another fellow Cuban, Livan Hernandez.
Lannan said that the González trade was what set the year.
"He's always smiling when you come in. I kind of compare it to the way Livan Hernandez is even though Gio is like 25 years younger," Lannan told FNL while trying to hold his laugh.
"It's just the same kind of mentality. Always smiling. Enjoying life. Happy where they're at. Very grateful. It's just refreshing."
Added catcher Jesus Flores: "He's a funny guy, energetic, outgoing and a great teammate."
González started off the Nationals number two starter, following staff ace Stephen Strasburg in the rotation. Once Washington decided to shut down Strasburg in September, González had no choice but to assume the lead role.
"He's definitely been a huge part of this. ...I mean that rotation has really been the anchor of this team all year. Gio has been at the head of that. So for him to have the season that he had and do what he's done for us, (he) has been a huge part of this season," Zimmerman said.
González never skipped a beat as the Nationals rolled their way on to becoming the National League's best team. He never missed a start, finishing the regular season 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA and rung up 207 strikeouts in his 32 starts. He only lost back-to-back starts only once this season.
He did not make his last start of the season because the Nats had already wrapped up the division title and best record in the league.
Many will say he's the reason for the team's success but González deflected all the recognition towards his 24 teammates.
"The credit, I can't accept it," González said.
"To me, when your team is performing and playing hard behind you, it's just you've got to do your part and try to keep your team in the game and have some fun. ... I think that for me to take the role as the ace, I'm humbled, I'm grateful, but at the same time, there's plenty of guys in this rotation that deserve that kind of credit."