Jake Peavy's Improbable Return

CHICAGO - JUNE 25: Starting pitcher Jake Peavy #44 of the Chicago White Sox delivers the ball against the Chicago Cubs at U.S. Cellular Field on June 25, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Cubs 6-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Jake Peavy is starting on Wednesday night, and he’s at the point where his fantastic career isn’t the story, taking a back seat to bones, ligaments, and labrums. It happened to Eric Chavez and Nomar Garciaparra -- exceptional players who are remembered as much for what their bodies prevented them from being, which obscures how amazing they were for a while.

Kenny Williams never forgot. A part of him is stuck in 2007. He’s still waiting for Spiderman 3 to come out and everything. When Peavy won his Cy Young, he did it with that impossibly rare mix of power and finesse. It was impressive on a lot of levels, and Williams never forgot. He made Peavy his white whale. I like to think that Williams just stood outside of former Padres GM Kevin Towers’ living room window for a month or so. Not calling, not e-mailing, just standing. Towers opened the shutters and ... Kenny!

Peavy’s barking elbow, which caused him to miss a month in 2008? Not a problem for the White Sox. The $42 million or so left on his contract? A paltry sum. So the White Sox pressed hard for him, convincing the Padres to accept a four-player package. Peavy said, "Nah," rejecting the trade. Most GMs would get the hint, but Williams has a special kind of focus. He got his white whale at the last second before the trade deadline.

That perseverance has brought the White Sox a whole lot of nothing. Peavy pitched 20 outstanding innings after the trade before a line drive hit his elbow, and when he came back from that, he aggravated a previous injury to his ankle and missed the remainder of the season. He came back in 2010 and was awful before reeling off a 1.75 ERA in June. He looked fixed right before he was completely broken.

And, man, how he was broken. Reading Peavy describe the details of his injury makes me queasy. He completely tore a muscle in his back. Other pitchers had suffered a tear, but they were partial tears that didn’t require surgery. Peavy required a surgery that had never been done before -- it used to be a hypothetical, nothing more than "What if Lou Brock stayed with the Cubs?" translated to surgeon-talk. But someone actually did it, and Peavy’s coming back on Wednesday.

The White Sox have one of the worst records in baseball, so Peavy doesn’t represent much of a cavalry on his own. But with the White Sox on the hook for $21 million after this season, anything they can get for this season will give them hope for next season. And the hope is that Peavy is Peavy again because the guy used to be freakishly good.

My memory of Peavy as a Padre -- other than him regularly shutting my team down for a few years -- comes from this game, which was Barry Bonds’ last. The Padres were up 9-2, and Peavy faced Bonds in what everyone knew was Bonds’ last at-bat as a Giant (and what few realized would be Bonds’ last at-bat for anyone). Peavy threw three fastballs right down the middle. He wasn’t trying to lay one in to Bonds; he was challenging him. On the last fastball, Bonds flied out to deep center.

I’d wager that most pitchers would have tried everything to get Bonds out. Actually, most pitchers would have walked Bonds. No one wanted to give up a homer to Bonds. Peavy didn’t either, but he had fun. In a situation that was meaningless for the Padres but absolutely meaningful for Bonds and Giants fans, Peavy had fun. And he won the battle. When he’s healthy, that's kind of his modus operandi. He has fun, and he wins -- a huge talent who is impossible to hate, even when he’s mowing down your team.

And if he makes it back to where he was, it will be a medical miracle. Just getting him on the mound is kind of a medical miracle, so he’s already ahead of where he could have been. Here's hoping he's remembered for what he does on a baseball diamond from here on out, for better or for worse.

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