BALTIMORE-- A year ago, Miguel Gonzalez had appeared in one career game above Double-A.
Now the 28-year-old right-hander will take the mound for the Orioles in a pivotal Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday night in New York.
"I think you have to pinch me," Gonzalez said of his rookie season, which started in Minor League camp and includes wins over the Red Sox, Angels and Wednesday's opponent, the Yankees. "I still don't believe that I'm up here. I was motivated. I was doing real good in Mexico. My velocity was up, my confidence was there. Everything was clicking. From one day to another, my life changed."
Signed out of the Mexican Winter League after striking out the side on nine pitches in an early scrimmage, Gonzalez has been one of the Orioles' best success stories. The team has monitored his innings down the stretch -- in nine starts on regular rest, he has a 4.55 ERA, a mark that drops to 2.52 when getting six or more days of rest, which he has heading into Wednesday.
Gonzalez last pitched on Tuesday, against the Rays, throwing 6 1/3 scoreless innings at Tropicana Field. He has excelled on the road, and he is 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA in two starts at Yankee Stadium.
"You can see the look on his face, he's just happy to be pitching and competing," manager Buck Showalter said of Gonzalez, who has undergone both Tommy John and knee surgery and was released by the Red Sox over the winter. "Miguel never gave in, never quit trying. It's a real testament to our guys down below. About a month or two into the season, he was pitching these three-inning stints [at Triple-A] and we started asking, 'Can he start?' And we started stretching him out."
Moved to the rotation out of necessity in early July -- the club had demoted three starters the previous week -- Gonzalez went six or more innings in 12 of his first 15 Major League starts, posting a 2.77 ERA, excluding his eight-out nightmare on July 25, a start Gonzalez made despite being ill the entire morning. Not wanting to draw attention or make it look as though he was making excuses, Gonzalez gutted it out, discreetly telling the team's trainers after the game.
"The first day [Gonzalez] showed up, you could tell there was emotional control with him," said Rick Adair, who calls Gonzalez the most remarkable success story he's seen in 26 years as a pitching coach.
"What he's been through physically, how he's had to miss time [and] play winter ball, you automatically know there's something inwardly about this guy that not too many people have. Perseverance, I guess, in a very intense way. You knew coming in as a pitcher, there's an automatic trust factor that this guy is not only going to do great, he's going to be prepared to do great. ... I told him when he got here, I admire him. I do."
Gonzalez pitched to a 1.91 ERA in five August starts and has been better in hostile environments, posting an ERA more than a run lower. In Anaheim on July 6, he threw seven innings of one-run ball against his hometown team.
The inspired win -- his first career Major League start against the organization that initially signed him -- made headlines when Gonzalez revealed he had used a glove once belonging to late Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, a tribute to a friend and Minor League teammate.
How has he been able to be so successful away from Camden Yards?
"Miguel is a talented young man," Showalter said. "I think sometimes that gets overlooked. He's got a great hand. You hear a lot of older scouts talk about pitchers, and they say, 'That guy has got a good hand.' and Miguel has good maneuverability with the baseball.
"Miguel has put himself in a position to contribute, and he's a great story about perseverance and just a strong will to succeed."
"I've always been the same guy everywhere I've been to," Gonzalez said. "Playing in Mexico, playing in the Minor Leagues, I've always been that confident guy. Never lost my confidence. I'm not afraid to pitch. I've done it my whole life, why be afraid now?"
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.