ST. PETERSBURG — At the beginning of this calendar year, Miguel Gonzalez didn’t know where he was going to pitch. Released by the Red Sox in December, he hoped another major league team would give him a chance.
And now, on the second day of October, the right-hander — signed after he was scouted pitching in Mexico — kept the Baltimore Orioles’ AL East title hopes alive.
Gonzalez seemed to be the perfect candidate to pitch with the Orioles’ division hopes on the line. He had already pulled out gutsy wins in Anaheim, New York and Boston, pitching with calmness unlike that of a rookie.
The 28-year old threw 61 / 3 shutout innings Tuesday night, holding the Tampa Bay Rays to two hits while striking out seven to guide the Orioles to a 1-0 victory.
“If you’ve been through what he’s been through, with injury and people kind of doubting him, and he’s persevered,” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said.
Despite the Yankees’ 4-3 comeback win over Boston in 12 innings, the Orioles head into the final day of the regular season with a sliver of hope for their first division title since 1997. One game back of the Yankees, the Orioles need to win and hope for a Yankees loss to force a one-game playoff for the division title Thursday at Camden Yards.
The Orioles improved their record to 29-9 in one-run games — their .763 winning percentage in one-run games is the best in major league history with at least 20 games — and are 74-0 when leading after seven innings.
The Orioles had just two hits on the night — Chris Davis’s mammoth solo homer to center in the fourth provided the game’s only run — and were largely stymied by Rays right-hander James Shields, who threw a complete game and struck out a franchise-record 15 batters.
Shields became the first pitcher in the live ball era (since 1918) to take a loss after striking out 15 or more with no walks and allowing two or fewer hits.
Davis’s homer was the difference. He took a 1-1 changeup from Shields an estimated 440 feet onto the restaurant roof beyond center field for his career-high 33rd homer of the season.
Baltimore’s 15 strikeouts were the most since Boston’s Pedro Martinez whiffed 15 Orioles on May 12, 2000. Shields did not allow a hit after Nate McLouth’s two-out single in the sixth, retiring the final 10 Orioles he faced, seven of them by strikeout.
With his win over the Rays, Gonzalez — who is 4-1 with a 1.60 ERA in his last six starts — became the second Orioles rookie pitcher to earn wins over each team in the AL East and the first since Willis Roberts in 2001.
The Orioles bullpen closed out the game with the final nine outs. Closer Jim Johnson extended his team-record save mark to 51 with a scoreless ninth to wrap it up and keep the Orioles in the running for the division title.