With the current state of the organization, the Orioles feel extremely far removed from any type of pennant race. Factor in the current climate of the nation, where time seems to stand still, and it is nearly impossible to recall a time when the Birds were title contenders.
The unsung Orioles heroes series should serve as a set of feel good stories of underdogs and overachievers. That’s why it pains me to point out that only six years ago, in October of 2014, the Baltimore Orioles were the favorite to win the World Series.
Unfortunately, we all know how that one played out.
I do not bring up the Royals four-game sweep of Baltimore in the ALCS just to kick us all while we’re down. Instead, I’d simply like to remind you all of how special that 2014 club was.
There were some heavy hitters in that lineup. Prized free-agent Nelson Cruz blasted 40 bombs to lead the way, while Adam Jones blasted 29, Chris Davis tallied 26 and fellow unsung-hero candidate Steve Pearce laced 21. But it’s not the round-trippers that stick out to me. It’s not the three Gold Glove awards or even the season-ending knee injury to Manny Machado.
It’s the rotation.
Five Baltimore starting pitchers all finished with ERAs below four. Who led the way? Just a former minor-league free agent from Guadalajara, Mexico.
Miguel González started 26 games, tossed 159 innings, and finished with a 3.24 ERA in a 10 win season. The total was low enough to beat out pseudo-staff-ace Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Kevin Gausman and Bud Norris. The Orioles offense won the team plenty of games that year, but González and the rotation provided the club the chance to be successful.
González embarked on quite the baseball journey before making his way to Baltimore. He signed with the Angels as a minor-league free agent in 2005, and flashed legitimate talent in the rotation at Double-A in 2007. Unfortunately, a torn meniscus wiped out the entirety of his 2008 season.
González spent the 2008 offseason dominating in the Mexican League, which prompted Boston to pull the trigger and select him in the Rule-5 draft. The righty went to camp with the Red Sox before tearing a ligament in his elbow. For the second time, González had followed a successful campaign with a devastating injury. This time, it required Tommy John surgery.
The recovery process from Tommy John is unique to every player. González needed two years to get his arm strength back, and his fastball was not the only thing that had fallen off the radar.
After the Red Sox released him, González once again found himself pitching in the Mexican League. That’s where Orioles scout Fred Ferreira found him.
Ferreira told the Baltimore Sun back in 2012 that he wanted to sign González right away. It took just one inning for the righty to make an impression. Nine pitches, nine strikes, three K’s. Shortly after, general manager Dan Duquette made the then 28-year-old a Baltimore Oriole.
González made his way to Sarasota, but was not provided an immediate opportunity to make the show. It took several dominant relief outings at Triple-A before he gained a cup of coffee in Baltimore. After serving as the extra man in a doubleheader, González returned to Norfolk and immediately began working as a starter. When the big club called once again, González made an impact from the jump.
González made his first start in Los Angeles against the first team to give him a shot. A stone’s throw away from his adopted hometown of San Fernando, California, he tossed seven strong innings to notch his first Major League victory. González revealed after the game that he used a glove gifted to him by a former teammate— the late Nick Adenhart.
A touching tribute and a feel good moment quickly transformed into one of the biggest moments of the season for the Orioles. Baltimore, in the midst of breaking a 15-year playoff drought, suddenly had another capable starter on its hands. González finished the year 9-4, with a 3.25 ERA. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball against the Yankees in game three of the ALDS.
González perfectly encompassed the new-aged Oriole way under Buck Showalter. He gained a reputation as a determined player that overcame several obstacles before reaching success.
“He’s a great story about perseverance and just a strong will to succeed,” Showalter said of González back in 2012. “He’s a great example to pitchers not only with our team but in the organization about pitching instead of throwing. He’s a guy that understands the art of pitching.”
González used that understanding to tally a 39-31 record with Baltimore over four seasons. He was released prior to the 2016 season and eventually signed with the Chicago White Sox.
González flourished when winning baseball made its way back to Baltimore. Better yet, he played a key role in its return. The Orioles window of opportunity closed without a championship ring, but it’s still the most recent run of prolonged success.
González served as a key rotation member during 92- and 96-win seasons, and helped the club clinch its first division title since 1997. His time in Baltimore will not be enshrined in any formal way, but his impact during the last winning era in Baltimore cannot be questioned.
Not bad for an injury-prone righty out of the Mexican League.