When Jake Peavy came over to the South Side on the trade deadline of 2009 he was on the disabled list with ankle injury at the time. An MRI conducted on June 12 had found a strain of the posterior tibalis tendon in his right foot.
He had been pitching with the ailment for three weeks. This was an omen.
At the time, it was a forgivable display of his trademark fire. Take note how similar the tone a 2009 post by the SBNation Padres’ blog Gaslamp Ball is to how we might react to a negative product of a Sale temper tantrum.
“Remember back in the day when Peavy’s rib was busted and he pitched? And then there was the time when Peavy’s retina was detached and he didn’t tell anybody? Didn’t it seem so much more quaint back then?”
It was unfortunate, but to rage about it would be deny what Peavy great, and there’s no real arguing that for Peavy–a less-than-ideal sized 15th round pick–being an irrationally determined nut wasn’t a crucial part of him becoming a Cy Young winner.
By the time he arrived in Chicago, Peavy was a 28 year-old with over 1300 innings under his belt, and had unknowingly waltzed across the physical barrier between charmingly determined and harmfully reckless. A 2010 rotation headlined by himself, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd was billed as possibly the best in the American League.
There were many things that turned out to be wrong about that prediction, but most off was Peavy. He had a 6.23 ERA through May and was easily the biggest disappointment of a team that stumbled out to a 16-24 start.
But just as Peavy found his command again, the Sox whipped into shape and got started on 36-17 stretch that would vault them back into the AL Central race. With the team that was supposed to offer his best shot at a World Series coming into view, Peavy responded to mounting shoulder soreness and fluid build-up in his usual way–by pitching through it. Jake would reel off five quality starts in a row (with a 1.75 ERA) before his latissimus dorsi muscle ripped off the bone of his throwing shoulder.
Equating the injury with the pain that preceded it, or posing such a bizarre injury as a foreseeable occurrence might be problematic, but the correlation of that single disastrous injury, which prompted and the larger narrative arc of Peavy’s career is too perfect to ignore. Oftentimes, when a player misses on a year, much like Adam Dunn or Alex Rios after missing out on 2011, they can spend the next few seasons chasing the opportunity that abandoned them, struggling to recapture the timing.
Peavy raced back faster than was likely advisable to play his part on a lost 2011 team that was beyond his help. A stripped-down 2012 team got his best work but made sport of shorting him on run support and wilted alongside him in the face of Detroit down the stretch, and fittingly, pitching through rib pain until it became unbearable (while rendering him unplayable) spared him from the worst of this year’s tire fire.
He miraculously remade himself into a serviceable No. 2 starter, but Peavy always managed to imbue a sense of dissatisfaction on his work. His best starts often had an extra inning tacked onto them. If it seemed fitting that Peavy’s White Sox career likely ended Thursday with a solo home run allowed in an eighth inning he shouldn’t have seen, it’s because it was about the way his would-be farewell occurred last October when he unnecessarily came out for the ninth and allowed a game-tying home run. Even last year’s triumph, a return to herculean 200+ inning workloads, was haunted by late-season failures against Detroit as the division’s best offense slowly overwhelmed him. Jake was fantastic, but had a painful way of making it clear what he couldn’t quite accomplish.
Peavy’s leaving marks the end of a four-year period of disappointment on the South Side. He was the big game of his respective trading the season, the big, shiny No. 1 starter that proved the Sox were serious about spending up to win right away. Now he’ll walk away having pitched more meaningful ball in San Diego. Even though it’s easy to understand how he got there, Peavy never quite lived up to the lofty expectations placed upon him. In turn, neither did the White Sox
Post-script: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite Jake Peavy start, one that completely subverted the troubles of his tenure while simultaneous displaying the same recklessness that permeated it. In his second start back from shoulder surgery, his first home appearance after a nervy six innings in Anaheim that was cut at 87 pitches, Peavy threw a complete game, three-hit shutout of the Cleveland Indians.
It was ill-advised both physically (Peavy threw 111 pitches) and tactically (Putting a starter who’s recovering from surgery and has thrown 102 pitches into a 1-0 game in the ninth??!), but Peavy shoved it anyway, which is what he always wanted to do–be the sort of battleaxe that the standards didn’t apply to. After all, it was who he used to be, and who he should have been here. The timing just didn’t work out.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan