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A Brief History Of 20-Game Winners In The Nation's Capital: From Walter Johnson To Gio Gonzalez

With his 20th win of 2012 on Saturday, Gio Gonzalez became just the 10th player in D.C. baseball history to reach twenty wins in a single season since 1901.


The Washington Senators were one of eight charter clubs to play in the first season of the American League as a "major" baseball league in 1901. It was ten seasons into the so-called modern era of the game (1901-present) before the original Senators had a 20-game winner. 27-year-old lefty Casey Patten came close in 1901, winning 18 games on a Senators team that finished sixth in the eight-team league. A then-29-year-old Al Orth, (aka Smiling Al or the Curveless Wonder), a Sedalia, Missouri-born right-hander who'd won 20 games for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1901, won 19 games (and hit 18 HRs) for the Senators in 1902. 26-year-old righty "Long Tom" Hughes won 17 and lost 20 for the 1905 Senators. Five years after Casey Patten had won 18 as a rookie in '01, the then-32-year-old veteran posted a 19-16 mark for the 55-95 1906 Senators.

"Long Tom" Hughes came close again in 1908, winning 18 of 31 starts, but it wasn't until the 1910 season that the Senators had their first 20-game winner. Walter "The Big Train" Johnson, in his fourth major league season at age 22, was the first D.C.-based pitcher to win 20 games in a season in 1910 when he went 25-17 with a 1.36 ERA, 76 walks (1.84 BB/9) and 313 Ks (7.61 K/9) in 45 games, 42 starts and 370.0 IP for the 66-85 Senators who finished seventh. The Big Train would go on to win 20+ games in each of the next nine seasons as well -- including a career-high 36-win 1913 season -- then come back to win 23 and 20, respectively, in the 1924 and '25 campaigns as he led the Senators to their first and only World Series victory in '24 and the second of three Series appearances in D.C. baseball history in '25, when the Sens lost the Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

27-year-old, Belleville, Ilinois-born right-hander Bob Groom joined Johnson as one of two 20-game winners in the Senators' rotation in 1912. Between 1913 and 1919 Johnson was alone as the only 20-game winning Senators' pitcher, but Stan "Covey" Coveleski, a Shamokin, PA-born right-hander who was 35 at time, was the other 20-game winner on the 1925 Senators, going 20-5 in 32 starts.

The 1932 Senators had two 20-game winners. Alvin Floyd "General" Crowder, acquired from the St. Louis Browns along with Heinie Manush in a trade that sent Goose Goslin to Missouri, was 26-13 in his first season in the nation's capital. Crowder was part of a rotation that also featured Monte Weaver, aka the "Prof", a 22-year-old right-hander in his first full pro season who was 22-10 for the Senators in the one and only season he'd win 20+ in the majors. General Crowder went 24-15 for the '33 Senators, joined by left-hander Earl Whitehill (22-8), who was the last lefty to win more than 20 games for a D.C.-based team before Gio Gonzalez won his 20th game of the 2012 season this past Saturday. The 1933 Senators, were also the last D.C.-based team to make a postseason appearance before the Nationals guaranteed a return to the playoffs for a team from the nation's capital for the first time in 79 years last week.

Six seasons after both General Crowder and Earl Whitehill were 20-game winners, a 30-year-old Emil John "Dutch" Leonard went 20-8 in the one 20-win season of his 20-year career for the Bucky Harris-led 1939 Senators, who finished 65-87 and sixth in the American League. The Senators acquired a then-33-year-old, Evansville, Illinois-born right-hander Roger Wolff in a trade that sent Bobo Newsom to Philadelphia in December of 1943 and after Wolff went 4-15 for the '44 Senators, he won twenty games in 1945, finishing the season 20-10 with a 2.12 ERA over 33 games, 29 starts and 250.0 innings pitched for Ossie Bluege's Senators, who finished just a game-and-a-half behind the World Series-winning Detroit Tigers.

Eight seasons later, in 1953, Newport, Virginia-born right-hander Bob Porterfield, who was acquired by the Senators as one of three pitchers in a June 15, 1951 trade with the Yankees that sent Bob Kuzava to New York, went 22-10 for a Senators team that finished with a .500 record, 76-76, once again under the guidance of Bucky Harris.

After Porterfield's 20+ win season, it would be 59 years before the nation's capital would see another 20-game winner. 27-year-old Gio Gonzalez won his 20th game this past Saturday in his 31st start as a National following the December 2011 trade that brought Gonzalez to D.C. from the Oakland A's. Gonzalez was the tenth pitcher for a D.C.-based team to reach that plateau, which 69-year-old Nationals' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters on Saturday is, "... the mark of a Cy Young... it's just everything. It's bigger than a hitter, for me, hitting .300. He's had just a phenomenal year."

On the year, Gonzalez is now 20-8 with a 2.84 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 73 walks (3.40 BB/9) and 201 Ks (9.36 K/9) in 31 starts and 193.1 IP. He became the first left-hander to win 20 since Whitehill won 22 in '33, and Gonzalez's strong finish to his season has the Nats' starter set up to do something that none of the previous 20-game winners were able to accomplish: win the Cy Young Award. Granted, they didn't start giving the award out until 1956 (and didn't give one to each league until 1967) and Washington, D.C. was without a team from 1971-2004. But from 1956-71 and 2005-2011, no Senators or Nationals' pitcher has won the Cy Young or even come close. If it was up to Davey Johnson he'd award the Cy Young to Gonzalez right now. "Hands down," was the Nats' manager's response when he was asked if his starter had earned the award this past weekend.

Gonzalez credited his teammates and talked to reporters about how important it was to him to win his 20th in front of the crowd in the nation's capital, but the person he looked for after the win was Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty. "I was looking for 'Cat'," the pitcher told reporters after the game, "Because it's just one of those things that your pitching coach deserves that credit. A guy who's been there, who's helped out and kept me the same person all even keel all year. But there's specific guys that you want to hug and tell them, 'Thank you, so much.' I think that the credit goes to our infield completely and our catchers that have been doing great. Kurt Suzuki was a huge pickup for us and he's been calling a great game every time I go out there, just confidence builds more and more."

"It's almost like a dream and I feel like I'm still sleeping in it," Gonzalez said. Nationals fans know exactly how he feels. A 20-game winning pitcher. First place in the NL East in late September. A guarantee of at least one playoff game at home this season and hopefully more. If we are sleeping and dreaming, don't wake us up.