ANAHEIM, Calif.– Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez kept a black Rawlings glove given to him by an old teammate five years ago tucked away in his bag, waiting for the perfect time to use it.
Gonzalez and Nick Adenhart played together through the Los Angeles Angels minor league system for parts of three seasons. Adenhart gave him the glove during major league spring training in 2007.
They were good friends, even though their careers went different ways. While Gonzalez's career was derailed by injury, Adenhart became the top pitching prospect in the Angels organization, poised for a bright future under the Southern California sun.
Then, Adenhart, who was raised in Western Maryland, was killed in a car accident by a drunken driver after making a start April 9, 2009, at the age of 22 -- a tragedy the Angels organization is still reeling from to this day.
On Friday night, Gonzalez took the spotlight at Angel Stadium, making his first major league start and doing it against his former organization. For the 28-year-old Gonzalez, who took eight years to reach the big leagues, missing two full seasons with knee surgery and elbow surgery -- this was the perfect night to pay tribute to a fallen friend.
With Adenhart's glove on his left hand, Gonzalez quieted a dangerous Angels lineup, holding it to one run on three hits through seven innings -- the longest outing of his season, leading the Orioles to a 3-2 victory in front of an announced 42,716 at Angel Stadium for his first big league win.
"I've been taking it with me every time to the road," Gonzalez said of the glove. "I've always had it with me. I used it once in a while [in practice], but I try to keep it there with me all the time. I thought it was great to do it today."
The spotlight belonged to Gonzalez, who grew up just an hour north up Interstate 5 in San Fernando. He had about 200 family members and friends in attendance.
But Gonzalez saw paying tribute to Adenhart more fitting. The duo shared the same big league dream throughout the minors. On the same mound where Adenhart briefly pitched in his far-too-short big league career, Gonzalez shined in his biggest major league moment to date.
"We were pretty close," Gonzalez said of Adenhart. "I'm with him in my heart and obviously their family, I'm with them, too. It wasn't an easy thing for them."
The Angels also took notice.
"That's pretty cool," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "That shows the character in [Gonzalez] and the respect he has for Nick. That kid pitched great."
The Orioles (45-38) signed Gonzalez as a minor league free agent in late February after spotting him pitching in the Caribbean Series for a Mexican League team. They liked his poise on the mound, and he certainly showed quickly that he could pitch at Triple-A Norfolk, striking out 53 batters in 44 2/3 innings.
And after three outings in long relief with the Orioles -- and with the club in desperate need of rotation stability -- Gonzalez showed what he could do in a starting role.
"I've said it so many times, sometimes guys who are 28 to 32, a lot of things they expose themselves to, if they're absorbing things, they figure it out later in their career," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's got a lot of want to. And tonight he had some can to."
Gonzalez worked with precision, facing the minimum number of batters through his final 3 1/3 innings. He didn't allow a hit after the fourth inning, when Mark Trumbo hit a homer for the Angels' only run off him.
"He was right at home," catcher Matt Wieters said. "He didn't seem to be rushing it, which is the big thing. You want to try to slow the game down, and he definitely didn't have the game speed up on him out there, which is a good sign."
The Orioles got all their offense from left fielder Steve Pearce, who hit a three-run homer off Angels starter C.J. Wilson, one of just four hits the All-Star left-hander allowed through seven innings. Two of Pearce's three homers this season have come off Wilson.
"I just feel comfortable when he's pitching," Pearce said. "I was able to get deep in the counts and wait him out until I got to my pitch."
After Mike Trout's homer to center field off reliever Darren O'Day in the eighth, Hunter tripled off the right-field wall to put the tying run 90 feet away with two outs.
O'Day walked Albert Pujols intentionally before giving way to left-hander Troy Patton, who induced a popout from Kendry Morales.
"Wieters had a plan to stay hard with the fastball inside and basically that's all I did," Patton said. "I threw four fastballs inside and tried to locate them in on his hands and was lucky to get a pop fly."
Jim Johnson then quickly converted his 26th save of the season with a perfect ninth inning.
And after the game, the Orioles players rewarded Gonzalez with a shaving-cream pie to the face.
"It was a relief," Gonzalez said of his night. "A relief for me. All the hard work, the ups and downs I've had. Obviously that pushed me back a little bit, but I'm here now and I'm going to do my best to help out the team and just keep going."
The win gave the Orioles a 33-0 record when leading after seven innings. It also made them 21-1 when their starting pitcher goes seven or more innings.
twitter.com/EddieInTheYardCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun