Jose Quintana already had two strikes against him before he ever set foot in Chicago in May.

He had already been released by both the N.Y. Mets and N.Y. Yankees as a low-level minor leaguer. He also served a 50-game suspension as a Mets farmhand in 2007 for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy, something he chalks up to teenage naivete.

"What you learn from a suspension is just that you have to be more aware of what you intake with supplements," he said recently through translator Jackson Miranda.

In other words, nobody expected him to be one of the driving forces behind a team making a surprising run at the AL Central Division title. Quintana's locked down a spot in the starting rotation since being called up from Double-A in early May.

Just don't use the eight-letter "s" word around him when it comes to describing his early success.

"As far as a surprise, not as much a surprise [to me] because I put in a lot of hard work and I'm just hoping to continue it going into the second half of the season," Quintana said.

The left-handed pitcher has been a feel-good story of a feel-good White Sox season that sees them in first place. Quintana finished the first half with a 4-1 record and a 2.60 ERA, numbers that have earned him the respect of his teammates and, perhaps most important, his boss.

"He's just dazzling," Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "He's done everything we've asked. He's a lot more mature than you'd expect."

He's had to do a lot of growing up off the field as well.

The Arjona, Colombia, native says that much like any small-town kid who moves to the big city for the first time, he's found himself struggling at times.

"Downtown [Chicago] is hard," he admitted sheepishly, without Miranda's assistance.

While Quintana has a rudimentary grasp of the English language, he relies on Miranda during media interviews. Despite the language barrier, he said he's finding parts of the city that are making it feel a little more like home.

Quintana frequents the Sabor A Café in Rogers Park among other haunts and has developed a nice social circle despite the fact he knew no one when he first arrived in Chicago.

"There are a lot of Colombian restaurants that I've been able to try out, so I've been able to get around pretty well," he said. "There's actually a nice little group of Colombians that are here that I've become friends with and that come and support me, so it's nice to have them here."

In addition to being a small-town guy trying to make it on the biggest stage in one of the world's biggest cities, he's also an anomaly: a Colombian-born major league pitcher.

According to baseball-reference.com, Quintana is only the fourth pitcher from the soccer-mad country to make it to the big leagues. Odds dictated that he'd have a better chance of becoming a midfielder for the Fire than a starting pitcher for the Sox.

But ask Quintana about his abilities on the soccer pitch and you'll get a sheepish response.

"So-so," he said with a grin. "The area where I grew up, baseball is big enough where there are a few Colombian players who are playing in the major leagues. So we're hoping to increase that in the coming years."

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.