If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, as the saying goes, few can relate as literally as Wang Chien-ming. For him, the journey of a thousand setbacks began with a single misstep in Houston, more than three years ago.
On Sunday it led him here, to a ballpark nestled in a mountain, still seeking the deadliest sinker in baseball.
It may never return.
“I try,” Wang said in the clubhouse at PNC Field after a loss for the Syracuse Chiefs, the Class AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals. “I try.”
Wang threw one sinker at 94mph (151kph) in his last start, against Buffalo, but on Sunday, he topped out at 91mph. He tied up some hitters with a slider, but did not generate ground balls the way he used to. Eighteen batters put the ball in play off him. Half were in the air.
It was Wang’s sixth rehabilitation start and for the Nationals there will be no more auditions. He cannot make another start in the 30-day time frame for a rehabilitation assignment. Wang’s next appearance is scheduled to come tomorrow in a return to the majors in Washington, against the Mets.
The Nationals have invested US$3 million in Wang since the New York Yankees cut him after the 2009 season, letting someone else rebuild his damaged shoulder.
“I think he’s close to being ready,” said Randy Knorr, the Syracuse manager. “Timetable-wise, obviously, you’d like to see some guys have a little more time. We don’t have that time, but I think he can compete up there, I really do.”
For more than three years, Wang competed at an extraordinary level for the Yankees. He helped save the 2005 season with eight victories in 17 starts. The next season, he was the runner-up for the AL Cy Young Award. He won 19 games again in 2007 and twice was the Yankees’ No. 1 starter in the playoffs.
He was off to a good start in 2008, his bowling-ball sinker -bearing down and in on right-handed hitters, as heavy and reliable as ever. However, that June 15, in a game against the Houston Astros, Wang stepped awkwardly while rounding third base. He sprained a ligament, tore a tendon in his right foot and hobbled into oblivion.
As Wang remembers, Yankees trainer Gene Monahan told him he might be healthy for the playoffs. However, there were no playoffs for the Yankees that fall. He reported for spring training the next February and everything had changed.
“I did not use my legs to pitch,” Wang said. “Only the arm.”
The 2009 Yankees were destined for glory, but Wang was little help. He went 1-6 with a 9.64 ERA, the highest in team history for a pitcher with at least 40 innings.
On his next-to-last pitch, against Toronto on July 4 that year, Wang gave up a home run to Adam Lind. Asked on Sunday to describe the sensation on that pitch, Wang put his fists together, pulled them apart, and then pulled them back together. It felt dislocated, he was saying, but only for a moment. The next pitch, to Scott Rolen, was 86mph, alarmingly slow for his sinker.
“I knew something was wrong,” Wang said.
He had torn his shoulder capsule and would be a spectator at the World Series.
Wang joined the celebration on the field; his smiling face bobs along with the rest of the gang on the cover of the official World Series DVD. He had a seat on a parade float down Broadway and received a championship ring, but are the memories good or bad?
“Both,” said Wang, who never wears the ring.
He stays in touch with A.J. Burnett and Joba Chamberlain, but does not closely follow the Yankees. He still has his home in New Jersey and he lived there for two months last year with his wife and young son, J.J., whose name is stitched to the side of his glove.
The family spent most of last season in Florida as Wang struggled to strengthen his shoulder. Twice he felt healthy enough to start a throwing program. Twice he shut it down.
He has built back slowly on his rehabilitation assignment this summer: three innings in low-Class A, four innings in high-Class A, five innings, then six, at Class AA. He went 5-2/3 innings in his first Class AAA start, but just five on Sunday, allowing eight hits and five runs. He threw 63 of his 96 pitches for strikes.
Wang should have his chance to prove it for real tomorrow.
“A lot of people tell me, this kind of injury, no one comes back,” Wang said. “It would mean a lot.”
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‘FUN TIME’: Denver’s Nikola Jokic said that his team would not accept that anyone else is better than them and the opposition need to play much better than they do Just about everyone had LA versus LA written in for the NBA’s Western Conference finals, but the resilient Denver Nuggets have crashed the party. Behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2009 to face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 is scheduled to be played tomorrow. This was no ordinary road. The Nuggets fell behind 3-1 in their first-round series against the Utah Jazz before bouncing back with three straight victories. Then they went down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round before winning in Game 7
‘GREAT COMPETITOR’: Former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza was tested by American teenager Coco Gauff, before the Spaniard advanced in three sets Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Thursday cruised into the quarter-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia by handing their Japanese opponents a rare “double bagel,” a feat matched by US Open losing finalist Victoria Azarenka in the women’s singles. Top seeds Hsieh and Strycova took just 49 minutes to see off the challenge of Japanese duo Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya 6-0, 6-0 on the clay courts at the Foro Italico in Rome. The Taiwanese-Czech duo saved both break points they faced and converted six of 14, winning 62 percent of their first