SAN DIEGO -- Jake Peavy's return to the mound at Petco Park didn't go as he envisioned Sunday. Coming off a back injury, the veteran right-hander lasted four innings and took the loss as the Giants dropped a 6-4 decision to the Padres, closing their season-opening seven-game road trip.
But in truth, Peavy knows he's graced to still be playing after experimental surgery on his right shoulder nearly five years ago saved his career. Every time Peavy pitches, he proves to be a medical miracle.
"It really is and I take it like that," Peavy said after his first start of the season basically ended on a Wil Nieves grand slam. "I don't in any way use it as a crutch or want people to see it as that. I'm just blessed beyond belief. I do compete and play like every game could be my last, because I thought that pitch back in 2010 was going to be the last one I ever threw competitively."
The surgery Dr. Anthony Romeo conducted in Chicago on July 14, 2010, reattached a crucial tendon and muscle to Peavy's shoulder blade using a series of nylon stitches tied to titanium hooks. Peavy was pitching for the White Sox at the time, and he says he actually felt the tendon that holds the latissimus dorsi muscle to the rear of the shoulder snap.
"Right away, I knew it was really bad," Peavy said.
Romeo had devised the procedure and previously used it on wrestlers and rock climbers, but never on a starting pitcher. No other Major League pitcher has had it since. At the time, even the esteemed Romeo didn't know if it would work. Peavy has been playing with house money.
Including the postseason, Sunday marked the 113th start since the surgery and recovery, and the first for Peavy at Petco Park since he pitched for San Diego here on June 8, 2009. The Padres traded him to the White Sox little more than a month later.
"That was a very rare injury and a very creative surgery," said Padres manager Bud Black, who had Peavy on his staff when he won the National League Cy Young Award in 2007. "But Jake's a battler. That's part of who is. His makeup is such that he's very competitive. So him coming back from that type of surgery doesn't surprise me."
Peavy missed his first start of the season Tuesday at Arizona because of back tightness, and he claimed after Sunday's game that the injury is no longer an issue.
But most of Peavy's physical problems date back to that now long-ago previous start at Petco Park in 2009 when he pitched with a strained tendon in his right ankle, an injury he sustained a few starts earlier. Peavy pitched seven innings and earned the win, his 92nd and last for the Padres, 38 of them at Petco Park. On the disabled list, he never again pitched for San Diego. In fact, he didn't pitch for the White Sox, either, until Sept. 19, making three starts between then and the end of the season.
Peavy believes now that it was his gravest mistake.
"I was done for the season here in San Diego, and when I was traded over, my foot was in a cast," Peavy said. "The White Sox were still in it and they wanted to see if I could pitch. I did, too. So we got out there on an ankle that might not have been ready. It wound up just about wrecking my career."
In compensating for the ankle injury, Peavy began developing arm problems. By the middle of the following season, his shoulder was so sore that he could barely lift his arm above his head to throw a baseball. On July 6, 2010, Peavy had to come out of a game against the Angels at U.S. Cellular Field in the second inning. Eight days later, he had the experimental surgery.
Romeo couldn't guarantee long-term success, although he said at the time that the stitches and hooks were so strong that he doubted the repetitive motion of throwing a baseball 100 times a game would cause the hooks to come out and the shoulder to fracture. It's five years later, and thus far he's been right.
"So far, so good," Peavy said. "Obviously it's changed me, my arm angle and other things you do. I tried to reinvent myself the best I can to certainly try to do things differently than before I had that surgery. That being said, with the stuff I have now, I know I can be a contributing factor on a team."
Since then, Peavy's lived a charmed baseball life. He's won the World Series the last two seasons, with the Red Sox and Giants.
The trade this past July to San Francisco reunited Peavy with Bruce Bochy, who managed Peavy when he came up with the Padres until Bochy left for the Giants prior to the 2007 season.
Because of their long relationship, Bochy has a special affinity for Peavy, a 15th-round pick by San Diego in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft. Bochy has said a number of times that he "loves the guy." But because of the surgery and other injuries, Peavy is probably a 33-year-old in a 43-year-old body at this point.
"It just shows you how tough he is and what kind of shape he keeps himself in to be still be pitching," Bochy said. "From the day I met Jake, he was 20 years old and he was special. You could tell by how he competed just how tough he is."