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Elfin: Gio Stands Tall in Battle of Public Perception

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Two weeks after his name surfaced in baseball’s latest performance-enhancing drugs allegations, Nationals left-handed ace Gio Gonzalez met with reporters Tuesday to try to dispel those rumors as easily as he dismissed batters during his superb Washington debut in 2012.

“I’ve cooperated with [Major League Baseball‘s investigation],” Gonzalez said in Viera, Fla. as Washington’s pitchers and catchers began spring training. “I’ve done everything they want. I feel very confident [that I’ll be cleared]. I’ve never taken performance enhancing drugs and I never will.”

That’s about as strong a statement as the Nats could have hoped for from the 27-year-old Gonzalez, who finished third in the National League Cy Young voting last year after going 21-8 with a 2.89 earned run average and 207 strikeouts in 199-1/3 innings.

As Redskins receiver Santana Moss showed in denying that he had ever taken HGH when such allegations arose in 2010 – how few fans even remember that report now? — it’s always best to confront the charges about PEDs as soon as possible rather than have rumors abound for years as they did with former baseball superstars Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens et al, none of whom may ever be admitted into Cooperstown because of them.

Not that all will be forgiven if you admit you cheated, but it makes no sense to lie for years as champion cyclist Lance Armstrong did because the truth always comes out, especially in the 24×7, hyper-speculative world in which we live. No longer can even the most genial athlete expect that his indiscretions won’t be discovered a la Babe Ruth, whose 1925 season – and that of the New York Yankees – was ruined by a case of venereal disease which was reported as a long-lingering stomach ache.

Gonzalez, a Hialeah, Fla. native said that he was as stunned as anyone when he was mentioned in a Jan. 29 Miami New Times report about PEDS and Anthony Bosch’s Biogenesis clinic in nearby Miami.

“You’re shocked,” Gonzalez said. “Your name just was brought up out of nowhere. You can’t do nothing about it. You have to wait it out. My father [Max] already admitted he was a patient there, a legitimate patient. All of south Florida, all of baseball, knows that my father is the most proud father in baseball. [He] tells everyone about his son. Other than that, I have no clue why my name was on that list.”

While Gonzalez awaits word from the commissioner’s office, he was heartened to be personally invited by manager to represent the U.S. in next month’s World Baseball Clinic. Torre, after all, is MLB’s vice president of baseball operations. So if Gonzalez was going to be found guilty of using PEDs and suspended …

“If you get a call from Joe Torre you know that something’s going good and you feel comfortable that he believes in you and he wants you to represent him,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez also addressed the allegations today so that he won’t have to again until he’s charged or cleared so that they won’t affect his teammates, who are a favorite to win the World Series after winning a major league-high 98 games last season.

“I don’t want this to be a distraction to the team,” he said. “I don’t want any of this to be about me. We have a great team, a healthy team. It’s time to move forward.”

Improving on his Nats debut won’t be easy, but Gonzalez said that while he’s proud of how well he pitched last year after winning 31 games the previous two seasons for the Oakland A’s, he thinks he can be even better in 2013.

“It’s going to motivate me to work even harder,” Gonzalez said. “Do I have to prove anything to anyone? Absolutely not. I think my resume speaks for itself. I’m going to go out there and try to win 25 games this year. … I want to compete at the top of my level. I’m going to perform at the top of my level.”

And without the help of performance-enhancing drugs, right, Gio?

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin 

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