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The dramatic game three the New York Yankees won against the Baltimore Orioles will always be remembered by the back-to-back heroics of aging slugger Raul Ibanez. But the Bronx Bombers were handcuffed earlier in the contest by Miguel Gonzalez, a little-known Mexican pitcher who had gone the entire year in Baltimore with little fuss or fanfare. The knowledgeable fans in New York City, however, give him plenty of respect.
Except for a botched play by Adam Jones that allowed Derek Jeter to drive in a solo run with a triple (on a bad ankle), Gonzalez was flawless during his first-ever postseason assignment. The Guadalajara native, who went 9-4 with a 3.36 ERA during the regular campaign, scattered five hits over seven innings with eight strikeouts in this pressure-packed battle. He also never surrendered a walk, which reflects his solid balance and mechanics. Perhaps that’s why Miguel has experienced success twice before in Yankee Stadium. The kid displays quiet confidence, isn’t intimidated on the big stage, and his split-finger change-up put the Yankee bats in a slumber.
Gonzalez, 27, spent seven years in the minor leagues and suffered lots of time on the shelf, including a recovery period following Tommy John surgery. A successful comeback stint down in Mazatlan prompted Baltimore to take a gamble that has paid dividends.
“I’ve had some ups and downs in my career, but I’ve always believed in my ability,” notes Gonzalez. “I thought about quiting, but I love the game and playing baseball is all I know how to do (in life).”
Back to Ibanez, the lefty outfielder/DH came up huge, carrying the Yankees on his back as the team staggered to the finish line. Alex Rodriguez was benched in the final game, and Robinson Cano was an embarrassment at the plate.
Ibanez, who is Cuban-American, is on the back end of a nice career. But there are a bunch of talented young players in the major leagues who have parents who immigrated to Miami in search of a better future for their children. The San Diego Padres have doubled down with promising stars Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal. But there are other, better known players with Cuban blood, such as Robert Andino (Orioles), Bronson Arroyo (Reds), Alex Avila (Tigers), Eric Hosmer (Royals), John Jay (Cardinals) and Danny Valencia (Twins).
It’s a shame Gio Gonzalez, Washington’s ace southpaw who is also Cuban-American, failed to deliver against St. Louis when the chips were down. Many on the Nats pitching staff still need to go through the “maturation process,” as skipper Davey Johnson puts it, and Gio is no exception. His frequent wild spells occur in the heat of the moment when the kid has trouble staying within himself. Gonzalez may also need to develop another pitch besides the heater and his looping, Barry Zito-like curve ball.
Zito’s Giants and the Cardinals should butt heads in a great series. Both teams know what it takes to win a ring, and have an ample share of veteran Latino players. San Francisco relies heavily on Marco Scutaro and the flamboyant Panda, Pablo Sandoval. They also have Angel Pagan, super sub Joaquin Arias, and the “Tres Mosqueteros” in the bullpen, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casills and Javier Lopez.
The Cardinals roll with Carlos Beltran, who had a great series against the Nats, and Yadier Molina, who was disappointing. Molina hit only .118 against a shakey Washington staff, and the pitchers in San Francisco have much more experience. And after all these years as a catching icon, why can’t Yadier speak better English?
As for the Detroit-New York heavyweight battle, look for plenty of fireworks. The key for the Yankees is Cano, who could only manage a .081 batting average against the Orioles. Robbie will have to clutch up and become Detroit’s worst nightmare if New York is to prevail.