Wilson pitches himself into a mess
Despite closer's brave words, this injury is serious for him and team
Published: Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 9:22 p.m.
It was so depressingly ordinary what happened last Thursday in Denver. Brian Wilson came in to close out the game for Madison Bumgarner, the Giants leading 4-1. Closing out the game is what Wilson does — or what he did. He's almost surely facing season-ending Tommy John surgery because of structural damage in his right elbow — he already had that surgery in college. But he wasn't facing it in the bottom of the ninth last Thursday.
The Rockies hit him hard and he loaded the bases and threw a ton of pitches. Tyler Colvin came to bat with the bases loaded and two out. Wilson threw him a ball. Wilson threw Colvin another ball and after that he seemed to stumble. Or was it a stumble? Giants manager Bruce Bochy and trainer Dave Groeschner hustled to the mound and asked Wilson what gives.
Wilson told them he caught his foot in a hole and tweaked his ankle. A simple tweak. He said this with an earnest voice and a sincere face — what Bochy and Groeschner could see of the face through the beard.
“How's your arm?” Groeschner asked. “My arm is fine,” Wilson said.
Bochy asked Wilson to throw a few practice pitches and he did and they left.
Wilson lied about his arm being fine and he knew it. On the 1-0 pitch, he felt something pop in his elbow. He walked Colvin, which meant he walked in a run. He threw nine pitches after the 1-0, soon-to-be-season-ending pitch to Colvin. Bochy was looking hard at Wilson but didn't see anything wrong. Wilson was throwing some pitches 95 mph. So what was to worry about?
But Wilson sure was worried. “Yeah, you could tell what pitch didn't work well when thrown,” he admitted to the media Sunday morning at his locker. “I was still able to finish the inning and my mindset was, ‘OK, if it's inflammation, get out of your mess. If this is season-ending, then your last pitch is going to be preserving Bumgarner's win. I'm not walking off the mound a failure.'”
He got the save and didn't walk off the mound a failure. And now he almost surely is through for this season.
Wilson has been hurt since the end of 2010, the World Series season. He admitted this on Sunday. “I was pitching on borrowed time last year,” he said.
Does he regret pushing himself in 2010, knowing it led to this?
“Absolutely not. It's not how I play baseball. I push it to the limits. I was able to help our team and do some great things last year regardless of how horrible it felt throwing a baseball. It didn't matter. I play baseball because I like baseball. Not because of anything else.”
He ran out of borrowed time early this season, although he sounded strangely upbeat about his injury.
“I'm doing fine,” he said, even though he isn't. “I'm not down at all. The likelihood is that the season is over. We all know what structural damage is. The likelihood of me throwing again this year is minimal.
“I've obviously prepared for a different view of the game. I have an opportunity now to be a better teammate and watch other stories unravel and be more of a student of the game. I still have a lot to learn and I still have a lot to teach. By no stretch of the imagination is my journey over with here. This is just a mild bump in my road. Nothing has been really easy when I've pitched or lived, so this is an opportunity for me to get a better arm. How is that disappointing? I get to throw harder. I like it. I like my odds.”
Wilson sounded like someone who got a flaming-red Ferrari for Christmas. But he didn't. He got a bad arm and, in spite of what he said, it's hard to imagine this as a mild bump in his road. It's more like crashing into a mountain. There probably will be surgery and at least a year of rehab. And who knows what happens when he returns, although pitchers have succeeded after two Tommy Johns.
“I'm not worried about coming back at all,” he insisted. “It's not even a question. I'll be back pitching. I'm no slouch to working out, but I just know what I'm in for. It's a grueling process but I've never shied away from hard work.
“I'm not going to disappear. If I do have to rehab it will be here. I will be in the locker room. I know a lot of people are sad. Giants fans, they look at this as like a huge loss, but we have the best bullpen in the league. I don't think they're going to falter whether I'm there or not. The other seven guys are really good. There are just going to be different responsibilities and more roles to be filled. I'm not going to sit here and say I'm the savior and things are going to fall apart....
“It's a year, no big deal. If I plan on playing forever, then this is a small percentage of my career. Once I'm on the mound again next year, I'm not going to look back on this and say, ‘Man, that sucked,' or ‘Woe is me.' I don't think that way. That's selfish of me to get down because of my baseball problem.”
Bochy seemed surprised and sad when he learned about Wilson. The Giants thought Wilson was in good shape. He had done rehab for a forearm injury, but there was no indication of an elbow problem.
“He's not always truthful or forthcoming with you,” Bochy said. “And that's the problem with Brian Wilson, why he's probably a little more difficult to manage.”
Told Wilson admitted he pitched with extreme pain last Thursday, Bochy said, “Yeah, unfortunately I can see him saying that. That is his mentality. He's going to die on his sword. If he felt something, he probably knew, ‘Well that's it.' It wasn't like he was going to do any more damage.”
Bochy said he will use “closer by committee,” rotating Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla. He does not see bringing up fastballing Heath Hembree from Triple-A Fresno right now. Who knows?
And what about Wilson? He insisted that even if he needs surgery, he will be part of the team this season, at least in spirit. But hurt players, no matter who they are, most definitely are not part of the team. The team moves on without them, and hurt players become invisible like the people in that photo in “Back to the Future” who fade.
Brian Wilson begins a slow fade.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at email@example.com.
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