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Davis makes ordinary extraordinary

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

PHOENIX – Doug Davis arrived Tuesday afternoon with his cap on backward and sunglasses clamped to the back of his neck, saying a couple hellos to the boys in the lockers nearby, the usual routine.

Just before game time, he walked the length of the dugout, a white towel draped over his left shoulder, touching hands with every teammate, the usual routine.

He loped across the field – one long hop over the foul line – to the mound, the usual routine.

He looped a curveball for a strike to Rafael Furcal, the usual routine.

He struck out a couple in the first, got a bunt down in the second, drove in a run in the third, singled again in the fifth, and took a shutout into the sixth.

All routine (except for the hits). All, just baseball.

And now Doug Davis will go try to rid his body of the cancer.

Davis, who will undergo surgery to remove his cancerous thyroid Thursday, said good-bye for a month or more with six strong innings, a pump of his fist, a tight-lipped nod of his head and a wave of his cap.

The people here wished him luck with a standing ovation and a request for a curtain call, which Davis – appreciative of the gesture, regretting the circumstances – granted.

He is 32 years old. A family history of thyroid cancer found him a couple weeks ago. And in the seventh inning, his baseball done for a while and the rigors of surgery and extended treatment and some yet unanswered questions waiting, Davis sat on the bench and massaged his throat right about where they found the lump, and where the surgeon will cut.

He'd squeezed a couple starts between the test results and the solution to all of this, delivering the ball deliberately as he always has, but now seemingly buying time before giving the ball back.

Then he stayed in the dugout, finding no good reason to ice his left arm or begin the recovery for another start. He'd won a ballgame, pitched well, laughed some, beat back the dreary thoughts of tomorrow morning, and the morning after that.

He's just a regular guy, or at least as regular as any in this league. Nothing special on the velocity. Nothing special on the stuff. He's never won more than 13 games, never lost more than 12, but takes the ball 33, 34 times a season, shows up every day, finds a corner, adds a wrinkle, gets by.

Cancer – this one treatable, even curable, by medical opinions – becomes part of the routine, part of showing up, getting by. Baseball will be too again, presumably, just not for a while.

"It was definitely emotional coming off the field," he said. "It was emotional. Very emotional. But tried to stay strong. Didn't want to come in crying or anything like that."

He grinned, forced a light laugh.

"I'm just staying real positive," he said.

In 1999, Joe Torre was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was in the Dodgers' dugout Tuesday night. And whatever Davis harbored beneath that strong man's buoyancy, Torre has seen.

"The word 'cancer,' the only connection with cancer is death in your mind," he said.

And then the information comes, and maybe, if you're lucky, the word softens. Davis' mother is a survivor of thyroid cancer. He's been told the cure rate is 97 percent.

"I'm a big numbers guy in baseball," Davis said. "So I'll be a numbers guy in this."

Twelve years ago, Brett Butler was diagnosed with throat cancer. He sat out four months of the 1996 season, when he turned 39. He played only one more season and now coaches in the Diamondbacks' minor-league system.

And whatever scares Davis, Butler has seen.

"When you walk away, you leave, you don't want to because you just want things to be normal," Butler said. "His wanting to pitch tonight, he's thinking, 'Let me get a win, be a part of the team, be a positive.' And those mind monsters, they do show up at times. Not being a part of something you love so dearly is hard."

Before Tuesday night, Davis hadn't yet walked out of the clubhouse, knowing there would be no work tomorrow. He hadn't yet been prepped for surgery, hadn't yet awoken and searched a surgeon's face for optimism.

Soon, Butler said, "It's going to hit him, this is real."

On the field, when the game was still real, Jeff Kent had told Davis, "Best of luck to you, and God bless." Catcher Gary Bennett had encouraged him at the plate, as had plate umpire Dan Iassogna. A fan near the dugout hoisted a poster: "Good luck, Doug. See ya in 6 weeks."

In the dugout, when the game wasn't quite over, teammates patted his shoulder, tapped his fist.

"He wanted to win this game bad today," his manager, Bob Melvin, said. "He knew it was the last one for him. He wanted to win it bad. … It was a fitting way for him to go out. … Pretty heroic, really."

Davis insisted he hoped to pick up a ball and throw it within three or four days after surgery. He said he'd like to be pitching again in a month – May 14, he said. He hadn't even left yet, and already he was scheduling his return.

With any luck, it'll happen. You know, cancer surgery, recovery, back to the mound.

The usual routine.

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