- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chien-Ming Wang’s voice was soft, his face composed. The only sparkle came from the silver necklace dangling from his neck.

“I’m really happy,” Wang said Friday night through his translator, John Hsu, “that I still can come back on the mound and pitch.”

Seven hundred fifty-five days separated Wang from his last major-league pitch. Surgery repaired a torn capsule in his right shoulder, the same he used to fling one of baseball’s best sinkers. And he was finally back.

Sure, the New York Mets touched Wang for eight hits and six runs (four earned) over four innings en route to an 8-5 victory over the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. What mattered was Wang’s comeback reached the major leagues.

Manager Davey Johnson’s expectations were low. The pitcher he studied during spring training in Viera, Fla., favored his troublesome right shoulder and seemed to sling the ball.

But Wang stepped into 101 degrees Friday, the first two buttons of his jersey undone. Flags from his native Taiwan waved in the stands. The gazes and hotel-logoed pens of 45 Taiwanese media, including nine television stations, followed each move. The game would be broadcast throughout Taiwan, including a 6 a.m. celebration at Tapei’s city hall, according to the Central News Agency.

Minutes remained until Wang’s first pitch. Johnson presented a replica of Wang’s No. 40 jersey to Jason Yuan, the man in charge of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office here, which functions as Taiwan’s embassy.

Roars followed Wang to the mound. The flags waved harder. And his first pitch was … an 89-mile per hour ball. More balls followed. So did four consecutive hits from the Mets. Pitch after pitch was up in the zone, a distressing sign for any pitcher, much less one who made his career by keeping 60 percent of the balls in play against him on the ground.

For one inning, at least, Wang looked like a someone who spent the last month tossing to minor leaguers in places like Harrisburg, Pa., Syracuse, N.Y., and Hagerstown. There was little resemblance to the one-time ace for the New York Yankees who twice won 19 games.

“I was actually impressed,” Johnson said. “He kept his poise.”

Watch Wang through the manager’s eyes. The raw numbers didn’t matter so much. Johnson saw a pitcher whose delivery was free and easy. Who kept the ball down after the first inning. Who threw an effective sinker that catcher Wilson Ramos felt had good movement. Yes, Wang’s breaking balls weren’t crisp. And his arm slot fell lower than Johnson likes. But …

“I really didn’t think I’d see this much, to be honest with you,” Johnson said.

Wang plans to make adjustments in his next bullpen session. Location is key, particularly with his sinker. Some of those fixes started Friday, when he retired eight of nine batters after the spurt of hits in the first.

None of his 60 pitches were hit particularly hard. All were singles.

His fastball touched 93 mph and sat around 90 to 92 mph. The radar gun didn’t matter to Wang. Instead, he thought about being healthy. About pitching in the major leagues again.

Wang will get another start, perhaps more if the results follow.

“Anytime you’re gone for that long, you’re going to be a little nervous, a little excited,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “It’s been a long journey for him. … It shows what kind of guy he is.”

Late Friday, with 10 television cameras recording and the click-click-click of still photographers, Wang’s soft voice repeated one word.

“Happy.”