In other words, the veteran left-hander was not going to completely reinvent himself in one week. Instead, the Brewers are banking that a change of scenery and a late-summer breather will refresh Gonzalez, who delivered 5 2/3 effective innings and was backed by home runs from Travis Shaw and Christian Yelich before Jeremy Jeffress' tense four-out save sealed a 4-3 win over the Giants at Miller Park.
Milwaukee is playing its best baseball since a 19-8 month of May, with 13 wins in the last 18 games to push 19 games over .500 for the first time in more than four years. Saturday's victory sealed a sixth consecutive winning series and a chance to sweep the three-game set if the Brewers can get past Madison Bumgarner on Sunday afternoon.
"It's nice to finally participate in something," said Gonzalez, who had been waiting patiently to pitch since the Brewers picked him up in an Aug. 31 trade with the Nationals. "This organization believed in me and gave me a second chance, so I want to return the favor."
The Brewers pulled within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Cubs in the National League Central, after Chicago lost both games of a doubleheader at Washington, while extending their lead in the NL Wild Card race to 2 1/2 games over the Cardinals, and 3 1/2 games over the rest of the field. St. Louis absorbed a second straight walk-off loss in Detroit on Saturday.
Meanwhile, it was a promising restart for Gonzalez, who has a long record of Major League success but struggled to a 6.55 ERA in his final eight starts for Washington. He held the Giants to an unearned run on three hits, with one walk and seven strikeouts. The lone run scored right at the end of Gonzalez's outing, when Chase d'Arnaud beat left fielder Yelich's throw home to cut the Brewers' lead to 4-1. d'Arnaud was initially called out on the play, but the Giants challenged and won.
Reliever Corey Knebel finished the inning, and Gonzalez's Brewers debut was in the books.
"He's had a lot of success, and he certainly knows what he's doing," Counsell said before the game. "He got a little break. He got a little change of scenery, which I think helps everybody. Now it's just about, 'Make pitches.'"
That's what Gonzalez did. His lone walk went to his second batter, Kelby Tomlinson, who was promptly erased by catcher Manny Pina while trying to steal second base. And Gonzalez's seven strikeouts were his most since he whiffed nine Braves on June 2.
"You've definitely got the butterflies," he said. "It's one of those things that you're worried a little bit because you want to do so well for these guys. They're doing great, and you don't want to be that guy who stops the momentum."
"He stepped up and gave us a huge start," said Yelich. "You kind of had a feeling he was going to do it, just because he's been so good throughout his career. We're not surprised, but we'll definitely take it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Jeffress works out of jams: The Giants made it a one-run game in the eighth on Ryder Jones' pinch-hit, two-run homer off Joakim Soria and then kept the rally going, prompting a call for Brewers closer Jeffress with two outs in the inning. Jeffress surrendered an Evan Longoria single, then bounced a wild pitch that put the tying and go-ahead runners in scoring position. But he escaped by throwing a 95 mph fastball past Hunter Pence for a huge inning-ending strikeout before returning to the mound for the ninth to log his 10th save.
"This is September baseball, so you have to be prepared for anything," Jeffress said. "Today was a pretty good day. I felt good going out there for the eighth and going back out there for the ninth. I'm pretty sure there are going to be days like this again going on down the road, because every win is very important."
Yelich, again: Shaw took sole possession of second place on the Brewers' team leaderboard with his 28th home run in the first inning, but he was about to get company. As part of a two-hit night that included a defensive gem in the ninth inning and a near-gem on that throw to the plate in the sixth, Yelich hit home run No. 28 off the same pitcher, Giants starter Chris Stratton, with one out in the fifth. It was a line drive to center field that left Yelich's bat at 109 mph, according to Statcast™, and gave him 17 home runs since the All-Star break. Only Oakland's Khris Davis (20) has more.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS Yelich did it on defense in the ninth, charging in for a diving catch of Alen Hanson's line drive that put the Brewers one out from a victory. The crowd at Miller Park responded with chants of "M-V-P, M-V-P," and yes, Yelich heard them.
"It's definitely pretty cool. You can hear them," he said. "It's not something that you ever expect as a player."
He even showed his sense of humor, taking a jab at those who were upset that he needed a day off earlier in the week when the Brewers were going for a sweep of the rival Cubs.
Asked about his all-around contributions to Saturday's win, Yelich fought a grin while saying, "I was well rested, so ..."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY Replay has not been friendly to the Brewers this season. They are 5-22 in their own challenges and saw a Giants challenge succeed in a big spot Saturday, after d'Arnaud raced home on Austin Slater's single and initially was called out. After a lengthy review, that call was overturned.
"Live, obviously I didn't think he got in there, but on replay it was an unbelievable slide," said Yelich. "I don't know how he was able to contort his body like that. He kind of dragged his back foot across the plate, which I've never really seen before. Credit to him for a great slide. That was pretty awesome."
"Commenting on these plays, it's not very useful," Counsell said. "It's really not. They scored a run. They changed the call. What are we going to do?"
UP NEXT Zach Davies will continue his comeback from an injury-plagued summer when he starts Sunday's 1:10 p.m. CT series finale against Bumgarner at Miller Park. Davies' five-inning outing on Labor Day against the Cubs was his first start in the Major Leagues since May 29, before shoulder and back injuries derailed his season. He'll face a tough opponent in Bumgarner, who is 3-0 with a 2.36 ERA in four career starts at Miller Park. The Giants have won all four games.