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At the core of the movie Million Dollar Arm is a story of a man trying to find baseball talent in an unlikely place. The movie is not about Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette, although, when put in those terms, it sounds like it could be. If a month from now, Duquette announced that he was going to go scour the Indian subcontinent to find the most promising baseball prospects among a group of cricket players, would you even blink?
The only surprise is that someone else thought of it first. Duquette will go anywhere to try to find a player who can help the Orioles. He plucks players from near and far. If a team leaves the wrong player exposed to the Rule 5 draft, then Ryan Flaherty happens. If no one is really willing to take a chance on a second-tier Japanese league pitcher, then Wei-Yin Chen happens. He'll check out any league where he can find somebody to go there.
The Orioles might not have found Miguel Gonzalez on a cricket ground in India, but for as far as where he was from MLB, they might as well have. Plucked from Mazatlan in the Mexican League, he was at that time a 27-year-old who'd already washed out of the minors, never pitched in the big leagues. Those are not the players who tend to find their way to the top. But in Gonzalez's case, it was a pair of major injuries, including one Tommy John surgery, that led to the Red Sox giving up on him. That worked out well for the Orioles.
According to Triple-A Norfolk manager Ron Johnson, who recently told the story to ESPN's Tim Kurkjian for a profile on Gonzalez, he was not even supposed to make the Triple-A club out of spring training, but rather Double-A and they put him on the Norfolk roster because they had no one else.
Johnson said that the first three times he used Gonzalez, he put him into situations with the bases loaded and no one out, because that's what you do with the last guy on the roster who you don't really know. Gonzalez escaped all of these situations without allowing any runs - to the surprise of Johnson.
The story checks out, mostly; Gonzalez inherited a total of eight runners across his first three relief appearances for Norfolk, including when he came in with the bases loaded in relief of current Orioles teammate Chris Tillman in his first game pitched for the Tides. Gonzalez did not allow any of these runners to score. After that, so Gonzalez told Kurkjian, he made sure to mention Gonzalez every time O's manager Buck Showalter called down for a pitcher.
By July 2012 after a couple of brief appearances in long relief, the Orioles gave Gonzalez a shot in the rotation. Over 15 games from then to the end of the regular season, he started 15 games to the tune of a 3.36 ERA. Not bad for a guy from the Mexican League. Eventually, he pitched the third game of the 2012 ALDS against the Yankees, striking out eight in seven innings. He showed he belonged on the game's biggest stage.
Between that rookie year and the two seasons since, Gonzalez has gone on to a 3.45 ERA over 435.2 innings. He is not the prototypical ace-type pitcher, nor is he the kind of fireballer who pops your eyes with an upper-90s fastball.
More than a million dollar arm, he brings a million dollar mind to the Orioles, seemingly unflappable, keeping his composure under pressure. There would not have had their improbable playoff run in 2012 if the O's hadn't signed him and used him. They would not have had such a cakewalk through the AL East in 2014 without him either.
The O's swept through their 2014 ALDS against the Tigers so fast that Gonzalez didn't even need to pitch, but if they're going to advance beyond the ALCS, they're going to need him. With what he's shown over his career with the team, Orioles fans can feel just fine about that.
The team found Gonzalez in the baseball wilderness and he has helped to bring the franchise out of the baseball wilderness, which, when you think about it, is probably worth a good deal more than a million dollars anyway.