Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez said there really is no time when it is not on his mind — even when he is on the mound, even when he is turning in what was arguably his best performance of the year in a 3-2 victory against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night.
Sometime in the next week or so, the 29-year-old Gonzalez will become a father for the first time.
Limiting Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and company to four hits, one walk and one run in eight standout innings pales comparatively.
“I'm thinking about it no matter what, every time I go out there. I think about my baby girl coming soon, anytime,” Gonzalez said, smiling. “So, I'm pretty happy about it.”
Gonzalez's wife, Lucia, is in Los Angeles waiting for the baby's arrival, which is due June 19. She's also waiting for her husband, who is scheduled to start again Sunday against the Boston Red Sox. He doesn't want to miss the transforming moment. But he has no idea when to leave.
“The baby's not cooperating, but she's due the 19th. Hopefully, it will be one of these days,” Gonzalez said. “I have to keep working out, keep doing what I'm doing in between starts, what I need to do, and I'll focus on my family after.”
He did more than enough Tuesday to give the Orioles their ninth win in their last 13 games. They are now 37-28, the first time this year they have been nine games over .500. Today, they'll go for the sweep against the once-mighty Angels (27-38), who have dropped nine of their past 11.
“Miggy was tough. Boy, he was good,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He was really good.”
Pitching before an energetic announced 22,834 at Camden Yards and against the club that originally signed him as an amateur, Gonzalez (4-2) struck out five and matched his career high in innings, set Aug. 10 last year against the Kansas City Royals.
He needed just 96 pitches before turning the ninth over to closer Jim Johnson, who allowed one earned run but picked up his 23rd save of the season, tying him for the major league lead. It was Johnson's eighth straight save and the first time he allowed a run since giving up four in Toronto on May 26.
Showalter admitted it was a tough decision on whether to send Gonzalez out for a chance at the complete game. No Orioles starter has even gotten into the ninth inning so far in 2013.
“I thought about it. I had good options. Either one might have been the right one,” Showalter said. “I'm glad we had a decision to make with the starting pitcher.”
Gonzalez said he would have loved to have pitched all nine, but he trusts Showalter.
“That would have been fun, but Buck knows what he's doing,” Gonzalez said. “And [Johnson] did a good job finishing the game.”
Three times Tuesday, Gonzalez used double plays to halt potential Angel rallies, and he never once was in a real jam. The only mistake was an 85-mph changeup to Trout that the phenom crushed 448 feet to deep center. Six of the nine homers Gonzalez has yielded and 18 of the 22 in his career have been solo shots.
Otherwise, Gonzalez kept the ball in the yard, and the Orioles defense played exceptionally behind him.
Third baseman Manny Machado set the tone with a diving stop of Trout's grounder to lead off the game. Overall, there were at least a half dozen highlight-type plays — including two by Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis in the shrinking foul ground of the right-field corner. Both times he caught the ball just before running into the wall.
“When fans come to the games, that's what they expect, good defense, hitting and good pitching,” said Markakis, who also had the key two-run, two-out single with the bases loaded in the seventh to break a 1-1 tie. “And we saw that tonight. It was a good ballgame and we ended up on top, which is great.”
The Angels also made several impressive plays — and an Angels fan missed a memorable one.
In the first inning, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy launched a fly ball to deep center that appeared to be a two-run homer. But Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos ran straight back, jumped at the wall and robbed Hardy of his 14th home run — arguably the best catch at Camden Yards this season.
“I hit the wall a hair before I caught it,” Bourjos said. “I felt like the wall was coming, luckily I timed it well enough, had a pretty good read on where the ball was.”
What was Hardy's reaction?
“Really?” Hardy said he said to himself. “With a big question mark.”
It was reminiscent of last June 27 at Camden Yards when Trout scaled the center-field wall to take away a homer — also from Hardy. That became Trout's signature defensive play as he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
“They're both tied for first,” said Hardy when asked which was better.
Said Trout: “I was pretty pumped, it was a big play, perfect jump, timing was perfect. … Once we got into the dugout, we were messing with J.J.; he was just shaking his head. As an infielder, he's taken a lot of hits away from us, so any chance you get to take hits away from him, you take it.”
In the fourth, with Trout in left field, Hardy ran into bad luck again — this time courtesy of an Angels fan.
Hardy hit a fly ball that was headed into the seats along the left-field foul line. As Trout reached up to grab the ball, a fan in a Trout jersey put his glove up and knocked the ball away. It was ruled fan interference, and Hardy was called out.
Angels starter Jason Vargas didn't really need much help from the fans or the umps.
It was the second time Vargas and Gonzalez had matched up this year, with Vargas shutting out the Orioles 4-0 on May 3 in Anaheim. Gonzalez allowed three runs in six innings in that quality start.
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Vargas was nearly as good this time. Coming into the night with a 1.65 ERA in seven career games against the Orioles — his lowest mark against any American League opponent — Vargas allowed just two hits through five innings. In the sixth, ninth-hitter Ryan Flaherty singled and went to third on Markakis' single to right center. Flaherty scored on a groundout by Machado to tie the game.
Vargas (5-4) was then victimized by three two-out infield singles in the seventh, all the product of Orioles — Danny Valencia, Steve Pearce and Flaherty — hustling up the first-base line.
“We were fortunate,” Showalter said repeatedly. “[With] Vargas, you know there's going to be a fine line there. You get a feel for it and it progresses. I don't want to say lucky, but we were fortunate. We hit them in the right place.”
Reliever Scott Downs entered and Markakis lined his second pitch into center field for a two-run single. Markakis is 7-for-20 with nine RBIs against the Angels lefty.
“You want to be in those situations. I've faced Downs enough to know what he is going to do up there,” Markakis said. “He tries to stick the ball in on lefties' hands and normally does a good job at it. I was just looking for a ball up in the zone, anything up and I could reach I was swinging. So he left one up over the plate, I put a good swing on it and we got two runs.”