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Like his teammates, Orioles pitcher Gonzalez is unassuming and unfazed

Game 3 starter's unexpected emergence mirrors that of the team

Peter Schmuck

9:12 PM EDT, October 9, 2012

NEW YORK —

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The Orioles have arrived in the Big Apple and are getting ready to resume their playoff run Wednesday night in the glamorous new Yankee Stadium against the most expensive baseball team on earth.

If it were about all that glitters or is made of gold, they would be in serious trouble in Game 3 of the Division Series, but the surprising O's might have developed the perfect antidote to the famous "Yankee mystique" that is always a hot topic when the leaves start to turn and the games really count.

It's a disarming mixture of anonymity and humility that has made it difficult for opponents with far more star power to figure out how to beat them.

Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter have assembled a roster full of bright young players and hungry journeymen and unleashed it on a group of unsuspecting American League rivals that entered this season comfortable in the knowledge that the Orioles were one of those teams they would never have to worry about after the All-Star break.

Now, the Division Series is tied going into the first of a possible three games in the Bronx and the Orioles will send to the mound one of the standard bearers of a team that takes particular pride in not having any standard bearers.

Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez came into the 2012 season with about as much chance of pitching in the pivotal third game of a playoff series as outfielder Chris Davis had of throwing those two scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox back in May, a comparison used here to illustrate that the highly improbable started becoming plausible long before the Orioles reached the postseason for the first time in 15 years.

Gonzalez is the anti-Yankee. If you put him in pinstripes, he'd probably be mistaken for one of the bat boys, and he's so unassuming that he probably wouldn't even take offense. But when the Orioles put him on the mound at Yankee Stadium, he twice bedeviled the gilded Yankees lineup during the regular season.

He just got by the first time, giving up four runs over 62/3 innings in only his fifth major league start July 30. He dominated in his Aug. 31 start, shutting out the Yankees on four hits and striking out nine over seven innings.

Overall, he has been one of the most dependable starters in the Orioles' expanded rotation and a rookie in name only. He knocked around the minor leagues for seven years and missed a couple of seasons down there with injuries. Though he grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of San Fernando, he was much better known in the Mexican League than anywhere else.

Showalter and the organizational coaching staff just had a feeling about him, and that confidence has been repaid with compound interest.

"Miguel has put himself in a position to contribute, and he's a great story about perseverance and just a strong will to succeed,'' Showalter said Tuesday. "He cares about winning. It's not about himself, it's about impacting the game on the four days he doesn't pitch."

More important, at least to Showalter, is that Gonzalez is representative of a clubhouse culture that has embraced the us-over-me ethic the Orioles have parlayed into this surprising and uplifting turnaround season.

Gonzalez is enjoying the ride as much as anyone, though you'd never know it by his demeanor on the mound. He wears the same placid expression whether he's got a shutout through five or the bases loaded with the game hanging in the balance. He doesn't wear a whole lot on his sleeve except the Camden Yards 20th anniversary patch, which was obvious even when someone asked him during Tuesday's Division Series conference call how excited he was to be pitching against the Yankees in the playoffs.

"Well, being my first year here in the big leagues and having the opportunity to be in the playoffs, I mean, it's been a plus for me and for most of these guys that have been [with] the Orioles for a couple years,'' he said. "I think it's been real fun being around all those guys and having the opportunity to play here."

If you ask just about any of those other guys, they'll tell you the same thing.

That's why nobody saw them coming.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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