"We were pretty close," Gonzalez said of Adenhart, who was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver in April 2009. "We played together for two years. I'm with him in my heart and obviously their family, I'm with them, too. It wasn't an easy thing for them."
Nor has it been an easy path by any means for the 28-year-old Gonzalez, who played baseball 50 miles away at San Fernando High. He held the Angels to one run on three hits and two walks on Friday night to give the Orioles a much-needed boost in their rotation and bring the right-hander what he called simply some "relief."
"All the hard work, the ups and downs I've had, obviously that pushed me back a little bit, but I'm here now," said Gonzalez, who was released by the Red Sox this winter and pitched in the Mexican Winter League before signing with Baltimore in February. "And I'm going to do my best to help out the team and just keep going."
Originally signed by the Angels as an undrafted free agent in 2004, Gonzalez missed all of the '08 season due to a knee injury and was selected by Boston in the Rule 5 Draft that winter. He underwent Tommy John surgery in '09 -- which cost him the season -- and made 17 appearances for Class A Advanced Salem the following year. Gonzalez pitched for three Red Sox affiliates last season -- mainly for Double-A -- before he was released in December.
He did not appear in the Orioles' big league camp, but turned heads by pitching to a 1.61 ERA in 14 games (six starts) in the Minors, and given the struggles of the team's rotation -- they have demoted three starters in the past week -- Gonzalez got his chance.
And he ran with it, putting on an emotionally charged display that wasn't lost on Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
"I'm an old fuddy duddy; I think of those things all the time," Showalter when asked if he took in the magnitude of the moment for Gonzalez. "Not a day goes by where I don't get an emotional tug of what's going on. I've said it so many times, sometimes guys who are 28 to 32, a lot of things they expose themselves to, if they're absorbing things, they figure it out later in their career.
He's got a lot of 'want-to.' And tonight he had some 'can-do.'"
Gonzalez used pinpoint command to attack the zone, striking out six and twice erasing a leadoff walk to keep pace with Angels lefty C.J. Wilson, whom the Orioles tagged for three runs courtesy of Steve Pearce's home run.
"The best way to say it is, he pitched tonight," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Gonzalez. "He was in and out of the zone, had good life and used his breaking ball."
Pearce gave Gonzalez all the help he needed with one swing, as he connected for a three-run jack off Wilson in the fifth inning. After Wilson Betemit's leadoff single, Mark Reynolds worked his second walk of the night and Pearce sent a full-count pitch deep for his third homer, two of which have come off Wilson.
"I just feel comfortable when he's pitching," Pearce said. "I was able to get deep in the counts and wait him out until I got to my pitch."
Added Showalter: "He had some big hits for us. He understands the competition of some of the post-All-Star moves, and he wants to leave a good impression. I was thinking [Orioles Hall of Fame manager] Earl [Weaver] would be real happy about the scenario tonight, good pitching, good defense and a guy hits a three-run homer. I was hoping it would hold up."
It was in jeopardy after Gonzalez exited and reliever Darren O'Day served up a two-out solo homer to Angels phenom Mike Trout. Torii Hunter proceeded to triple off the right-field wall, and O'Day intentionally walked slugger Albert Pujols before Showalter brought on lefty Troy Patton to face Kendrys Morales and put out the fire.
"[Catcher Matt] Wieters had a plan to stay hard with the fastball inside, and basically that's all I did," Patton said. "I threw four fastballs inside and tried to locate them in on his hands and was lucky to get a pop fly."
Patton's pitching helped ensure Gonzalez would pick up his first Major League win, an ending that granted him the customary shaving-cream-pie celebration from teammates, which sent Gonzalez to the showers to wipe off everything but that ear-to-ear-grin. It was a smile that didn't fade and probably wouldn't for hours, as the right-hander reflected on the special moment that started as soon as looked down at the 'Adenhart' etched into his glove.
"Of course I did [take in the moment]," Gonzalez said. "I mean, I looked all around. Obviously there was 40-something thousand people and I said to myself, 'Stay within yourself and make your pitches. Change speeds and all of that.' Everything worked well. ... It was all around a great win for myself and my family."