Just when you think you've seen just about everything, something else happens that you would never have thought of.
In his first two games for the Washington Nationals this season -- his first two in the big leagues since 2009 -- Chien-Ming Wang was the definition of "hittable", allowing 15 hits over nine innings leading to an ERA of 6.00, which was aided by six unearned runs he'd allowed in the starts as well.
But last night, at venerable Wrigley Field, Wang did the unthinkable, holding the Chicago Cubs hitless into his sixth inning of work, leading the Nats to a 3-1 win. It was Wang's first win in the Majors since June 28, 2009 as a member of the New York Yankees against the New York Mets.
Wang, simply, was scintillating in his own particular way. He doesn't overpower hitters and rarely strikes anyone out, but when his hard sinker is tumbling the right way, as it did last night, he has an uncanny ability to generate weakly hit ground ball after ground ball. Against the Cubs, 11 of the 18 outs Wang recorded were of the ground ball variety. He gave up one hit, a ground ball single past second baseman Danny Espinosa and walked two.
In the effort, Wang threw 81 pitches, 53 for strikes, and maintained his 91-92 MPH fastball into the sixth inning.
The Nationals three-run outburst in the top of the sixth provided all the scoring for the evening's affair. Michael Morse hit his team-leading 20th home run of the season, a solo shot off Cubs starter Matt Garza (L, 5-9, 3.81). Two batters later, Jonny Gomes followed suit with a two-run shot with Jayson Werth aboard.
Having reached his limit after pitching six full innings, Wang turned things over to the bullpen, which has been shaky at times the past month or so. Sean Burnett held the Cubs scoreless in the seventh inning, but the Nats lost their shutout bid in the eighth when Starlin Castro clubbed a solo homer off Tyler Clippard. That was all the damage the Cubs could do though as Drew Storen finished them off for his 30th save of the season.
The night belonged to Wang though. It's been a long, arduous journey for the Taiwanese Michael Jordan, and his sense of satisfaction in earning a big league win after his surgery and two years worth of recovery and rehabilitation must have been what kept him focused during the tedious process. One can only imagine the emotion and pride he must have felt as dozens of his countrymen waited for him, chanting his name, outside the visitor's entrance to the stadium when the final out was recorded.
Regardless of what happens with Wang the rest of the way, and into the off-season, his performance last night was indelible, remarkable and honorable, the culmination of two year's worth of labor. Whether he can continue to succeed and feed off this performance, forcing his name into discussions about the rotation next season, remains to be seen. But for one night, he was as good as he ever was. And that was pretty darn good.
Sometimes, this game is more than just the final score.
THE GOOD: Jonny Gomes makes an impact, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
THE BAD: Danny Espinosa went 0-for-4, lowering his average to .226.
THE UGLY: Ian Desmond had a rough night at the plate, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
THE STATS: Six hits, two walks, eight strikeouts. 0-for-2 w/RISP, five LOB, zero GIDP, one DP.
NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 8:05 pm in Chicago. Ross Detwiler (1-1, 2.66) faces Rodrigo Lopez (2-3, 5.17).
***Photo link courtesy of Max Wasserman via Twitter.