ST. LOUIS -- Gio Gonzalez had just walked the pitcher, his fourth free pass of the second inning and his fifth of the game. In the left-hander's own frantic recollection, National League Division Series Game 1 was "spinning out of control."

Wild Card vs. Nationals

But over his right shoulder, silence reigned in Washington's bullpen. One pitcher idly stretched his quadriceps off to one side. No one else moved.

The game, manager Davey Johnson appeared to be saying, was the starting pitcher's to lose -- or not to.

"You work so hard to earn something like that," Gonzalez said after surviving that jam and gutting out five innings Sunday at Busch Stadium, allowing the Nationals to steal a 3-2 game from the Cardinals. "[Johnson] did a great job by letting me go out there and keeping us in the game. He easily could have pulled me out. A manager like that gives you an opportunity to go out there and make him look good."

BB for G.G.
Most walks in a postseason game
Pitcher Team Game Inn. BB
Bill Bevens NYY 1947 WS 4 8 2/3 10
Mike Cuellar Bal. 1974 ALCS 4 4 2/3 9
Rex Barney Bro. 1947 WS 5 4 2/3 9
Jack Coombs Phi. 1910 WS 2 9 9
Paul Abbott Sea. 2001 ALCS 4 5 8
Livan Hernandez Fla. 1997 WS 5 8 8
Mike Hampton Hou. 1997 NLDS 2 4 2/3 8
Juan Guzman Tor. 1993 ALCS 1 6 8
Fernando Valenzuela L.A. 1985 NLCS 5 8 8
Jim Palmer Bal. 1971 WS 2 8 8
Bob Turley NYY 1956 WS 6 9 2/3 8
Jim Hearn NYG 1951 WS 3 7 2/3 8
Gio Gonzalez Was. 2012 NLDS 5 7
Edwin Jackson Stl. 2011 WS 4 5 1/3 7
Ryan Dempster Chc. 2008 NLDS 1 4 2/3 7
Jaret Wright Cle. 1998 ALCS 5 6 7
Tom Glavine Atl. 1997 NLCS 6 5 2/3 7
Dave Stieb Tor. 1985 ALCS 4 6 2/3 7
Fernando Valenzuela L.A. 1981 WS 3 9 7
Ron Guidry NYY 1978 WS 3 9 7
Dave Boswell Min. 1969 ALCS 2 10 2/3 7
Allie Reynolds NYY 1951 WS 1 6 7
Lefty Gomez NYY 1936 WS 2 9 7
Tex Carleton Chc. 1935 WS 4 7 7
Bill Hallahan Stl. 1931 WS 2 9 7
Art Nehf NYG 1921 WS 2 8 7

What Gonzalez did in holding the Cardinals to two runs in five innings was neither flashy nor pretty, and by most measures, it was one of his worst starts of the season. That it happened in October, in his postseason debut, only made matters worse.

"It definitely drains your battery," Gonzalez said. "You're at someone else's house, trying to go out there and get a win. It's pretty hard."

But all the while, he proved something to Johnson and the Nationals with his performance. After retiring Jon Jay on a sacrifice fly to record the second out of the second inning, Gonzalez induced another flyout to escape that inning. Then he cruised through the third and fourth innings before walking another two men -- his sixth and seventh of the game -- in the fifth, ultimately escaping that jam as well.

"I resisted the temptation," said Johnson, who estimated he was one batter away from calling down to his bullpen. "He kept us in there, and that's what your ace does."

More specifically, Gonzalez's efforts kept the Nationals within one run throughout the middle innings, allowing them to come back and win on Tyler Moore's pinch-hit two-run single in the eighth.

"[Gonzalez] fights his way through it," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We were obviously in a position to strike, and he held on long enough."

It was not as if Gonzalez was entirely ineffective. To the contrary, through three innings, the left-hander was on pace to throw a 213-pitch no-hitter. But he became just the third player in Division Series history to walk at least seven batters in a game, and the 26th to do it in any postseason affair.

A pessimist may look at Gonzalez's line from that more critical perspective, knowing that Washington entrusted him as its ace this October -- while realizing also that he is in line to start a decisive NLDS Game 5, if necessary. Knowing that, the team must take the next few days to decipher what went wrong for Gonzalez, and how he might be able to fix it.

But as optimists, Johnson and company will continue to trust him. If the Nationals are to continue winning this October, they know they will need their ace pitcher back at his best.

As Gonzalez himself said, "I've got to talk about the positives. And the positive is, we won."