Two months ago, Michael Gonzalez was trying to regain a late-inning role out of the bullpen for the last-place Orioles. Lately, though, the left-hander has been so dominant that the Texas Rangers had to have him for their playoff run.
On Wednesday, the day before the deadline for teams to acquire players eligible for the postseason, the Orioles dealt Gonzalez to the American League West-leading Rangers in a waiver trade for 26-year-old reliever Pedro Strop.
Gonzalez will now get a chance to pitch in his native Texas for the team that lost to the San Francisco Giants in last year's World Series. But he had mixed emotions as his turbulent tenure in Baltimore came to a close before Wednesday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I'm excited. I'm going to go out there and I'm going to try to win a championship now," Gonzalez told reporters after he cleaned out his locker in the Orioles clubhouse. "The bad part is, obviously, I wanted to do more here in Baltimore. … I wish I would have been able to do better for the fans and things like that, but it is what it is."
Gonzalez was a popular target of frustrated Orioles fans after he faltered in the closer's role during the first week of the 2010 season. He he was even serenaded by boo birds before his home debut. He also got off to a shaky start this season, the second of a two-year, $12 million deal, and had a 5.46 ERA in 31 1/3 innings before the All-Star break.
But he bounced back in the second half, holding opposing hitters to a .154 batting average and posting a 1.80 ERA as he earned the trust of manager Buck Showalter. The 33-year-old pitched two scoreless innings in Monday's 3-2 loss to the New York Yankees, and he hasn't allowed a run in 13 consecutive appearances dating back to July 22.
"He stayed headstrong," reliever Kevin Gregg said. "He believes in himself and that confidence, it came out and allowed him to showcase who he is as a pitcher here in Baltimore. Unfortunately, for the first year and a half, Orioles fans didn't get a chance to see his full potential. We got a glimpse of it here lately."
Showalter said the Orioles trading Gonzalez to the Rangers for a player to be named later will be beneficial to both clubs. According to an industry source, that player is Strop, a hard-throwing right-hander who has appeared in 25 games for the Rangers in the past three seasons.
The 26-year-old was 0-1 with a 3.72 ERA in 11 games with the Rangers, before being demoted in May. He has pitched with the Rangers in three different seasons, compiling a 7.24 ERA in 33 big league games, walking 22 and striking out 29 in 27 1/3 innings. A reliever since the Colorado Rockies converted him from shortstop in 2006, the Dominican Republic native posted a 3.59 ERA with 11 saves and a 4-4 record at Triple-A Round Rock this year.
The Orioles have not confirmed Strop's inclusion in the deal.
In Gonzalez, Showalter said the Rangers are getting a player who is "pitching as good as any American League reliever, left-hander, reliever period."
"They're catching him at a great time," Showalter said. "He's familiar with the American League, so there should be little transition. He's obviously familiar with the state of Texas. So it's a really good situation for them."
Gonzalez exchanged hugs, high-fives and phone numbers with some of his now-former teammates after the trade was announced. While speaking with reporters, he thanked president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail for giving him an opportunity to pitch for the Orioles. And on multiple occasions, he expressed regret that he didn't show this city and its fans what he was fully capable of in crunch time until the past few weeks.
"That was the most frustrating for me, that I was obviously brought here to help the team win in those types of situations," Gonzalez said. "And not being able to do that was tough for me."
Gonzalez will now chase a championship in his home state alongside former Orioles reliever Koji Uehara, whom the Rangers acquired in July. But when he hits the free-agent market at season's end, Gonzalez said he wouldn't rule out returning to Baltimore.
"I'd love to show them what I'm capable of doing when I'm healthy," he said before slipping out of his Orioles gear for perhaps the last time. "Everything about [Baltimore] is great."