If you look up the word perseverance in the dictionary, you won't find a picture of Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Dustin McGowan. But maybe you should, because his long road back to the win column in MLB has been nearly six years (and four surgeries) in the making.
Making just his sixth start (to go along with 26 relief appearances) in six seasons, McGowan earned his first victory since June 22, 2008 with six and 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night. He allowed five hits on the night, and though he didn't have his best command with one walk and two hit batters, the O's were unable to take advantage.
There were probably numerous occasions when McGowan questioned if such a moment would even be possible. Since 2008, he's endured three separate shoulder surgeries, any one of which could have been the end of the line. In 2009, he also underwent knee surgery. Factor in a Tommy John surgery as a minor leaguer before reaching the big leagues, McGowan has been faced with many hurdles that could have proven too much for him to physically overcome. He just wasn't going to give up until he had nothing left to give, and the result is an incredible comeback story that may only be getting started.
''It's kind of a sentimental night, you know, one of those deals,'' Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. ''He's come a long way and he answered the bell. He had a rough one, his first one, and he bounced back tonight against a good-hitting ballclub. Yeah, it's very rewarding for not only him but for everybody that knows him.''
For those who may be wondering, McGowan's nearly six year stretch between victories isn't the longest in baseball history, but it's pretty close. Ironically, the record belongs to his current pitching coach with the Blue Jays, Pete Walker, who won one game for the New York Mets in 1995 and didn't earn another win until joining the Blue Jays in 2002. Walker would go on to win 10 games that season, in what by far was the most productive of his eight MLB seasons.
McGowan, a touted prospect at one time point and a 12-game winner in 2007, hopes to make a more lasting impact upon his return. At just 32, he's still young enough to establish himself as long as the arm holds up. But at this point he seems content taking things one game at a time.
''I think the most important thing is just feeling good,'' he said. ''I got the opportunity to pitch again and that's all I could ask for. Just trying to make the best of it.''
The fact that he's made it this far makes him an easy guy to root for. We'll see what his future holds, but for now he's an early contender for feel good story of the year.
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