The Astros and Blue Jays face off tonight at 6:10 at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Brad Peacock will be on the mound for the Astros and Chien-Ming Wang gets the start for Toronto. It will be Wang’s first trip back to MMP since June 15, 2008. On that date, Wang suffered a foot injury that would seriously sidetrack his baseball career.
As a member of the New York Yankees, Wang entered the 2008 season as one of the top pitchers in the American League. He had put together back-to-back 19-win campaigns in ’06 and ’07, his first two full seasons in the majors, and was having another outstanding season.
The Astros were still members of the National League in ’08 and when the Yankees came to town it meant Wang and his fellow starting pitchers would be without the familiar comforts of the designated hitter. Wang would strike out in his first two plate appearances against Astros ace Roy Oswalt. No big deal — the Yankees weren’t paying him for his hitting abilities. In his third at-bat Wang would be forced to run the bases after his failed sacrifice bunt attempt resulted in a force out. That’s when things started to take a turn for the worst.
Wang would eventually come around to score the fifth run in a 13-0 blowout win. But something happened between third base and home plate. Wang limped off the field. He had thrown his last pitch of the 2008 season. The runner-up in the 2006 Cy Young Award voting had torn two ligaments in his right foot.
Wang would return the following season, taking the hill for the Yankees second game of the year. But he just wasn’t the same. The native of Taiwan would lose each of his first three starts in 2009, allowing 23 hits and 23 runs in only six innings pitched. He would be sent to the minor leagues to work on his mechanics, which had obviously been compromised by the foot injury.
Prior to the injury, Wang had tremendous success using a combination of sinkers and split-fingered fastballs. His repertoire not only produced a lot of ground balls and weak contact — it also helped him compile the lowest homerun percentage allowed in the A.L. in both the ’06 and ’07 seasons.
But the injury had caused Wang to compensate. His release point was now higher and he was unable to keep the ball down. A chain reaction of injuries would follow, eventually resulting in July shoulder surgery that would once again end his season early.
Wang would sit out all of the 2010 season before resurfacing with the Washington Nationals midway through the 2011 campaign. The results were mixed and Wang has continued to bounce back-and-forth between the big leagues and the minors ever since.
After another failed attempt with the Yankees, Wang signed a 1-year deal with Toronto this June. His first three starts were somewhat encouraging, but the next two were terrible. Wang was again sent to AAA and today’s start will be his first in the majors since the second day of July.
Wang was the winning pitcher back on that fateful day in June of 2008, giving him a career record of 54-20 in his first 97 big league starts. In the five years since, Wang has made only 30 starts in the majors, compiling a record of eight wins and 13 losses.
Tonight, Wang returns to the scene of the crime. Undoubtedly he will recall that this is the place where his life was turned upside-down. The pain and suffering. The lengthy process of rehabbing multiple injuries. The loss of, potentially, millions of dollars. As Wang stares down all of those demons and goes to work he should be able to find solace in one silver lining. At least he won’t have to run the bases this time.