Gio Gonzalez stood on the mound at PNC Park in the bottom of the first inning, the afternoon off to as bad a start as the Nationals could possibly have imagined.

Bryce Harper had been ejected after arguing a check-swing call in the top of the inning. Starling Marte had crushed Gonzalez's very first pitch into the left-field bleachers. Ryan Zimmerman had committed another throwing error on a routine grounder. And now the bases were loaded with nobody out, the Pirates threatening to blow this series finale open before the Nationals would even know what hit them.

The situation was ripe for disaster, especially for an emotional pitcher like Gonzalez, who has been known to let a bad situation turn worse. Experience, though, has taught the 27-year-old lefty how to better handle such situations.

"When you get older, you get a little more experience, you start figuring out things, little-by-little," he said. "I think a younger me would have probably spiraled out of control and tried to be too much or tried to do too much."

Instead of trying to do too much, Gonzalez did only what he could do: Take back control of this ballgame. He wriggled his way out of that first-inning jam, then dominated the rest of the way to lead the Nationals to a hard-earned, 6-2 victory over Pittsburgh.

"I'll tell you what: Gio, unbelievable job keeping his head on right there," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "He could've easily gone the other way, gone south. He kept his head up, kept throwing good pitches. We snuck out of that inning, and then he was great the rest of the way."

And because of it, the Nationals managed to turn what at the beginning of the week looked like a frustrating road trip into something far more positive. They won four of their last five, improved to 17-15 and head home feeling like they've turned an important corner.