TORONTO – Amid the pomp and circumstance of the home opener, the great Roy Halladay throwing out the ceremonial first pitch and the major league debut of Yankees phenomenon Masahiro Tanaka, it could be easy to lose the significance of Dustin McGowan's role in Friday night's festivities.
Yet there he was, toeing the rubber to throw the first pitch of the first inning for the first time since September 26, 2011. Even greater an accomplishment, considering his significant injury history, is that McGowan is healthy to begin a season for the first time since 2008.
Not many pitchers undergo three shoulder surgeries and another on a knee and continue to throw in the best league in the world.
McGowan is a rare exception. He's allowing himself to enjoy the experience but not enough to distract him from the task at hand.
"I have a little bit but the last few days, my focus has been on what I've got to do to get the Yankees out," McGowan told TSN.ca. "It feels like I've got a lot of stuff going on in my head but that's part of it. I'm ready."
The shoulder surgeries chronicle like this: in 2008, to repair fraying of the labrum; two years later, in 2010, to repair a torn rotator cuff; in 2012, an arthroscopic procedure. McGowan underwent the knee surgery in 2009.
Yet there he was on April 4, 2014, starting Toronto's first home game of the season. His wife Jilly and their two children were in attendance. At the time McGowan spoke to TSN.ca, he was trying to arrange for his brother-in-law to be in the crowd, too.
The result matters because the game counts in the standings. But in its own way, the fact McGowan is on the mound in the first place, the fact he went to the Blue Jays late last season and told them he wanted to take one more shot at being a starting pitcher and the fact he achieved the goal seems just as important as the result itself.
"To be honest with you, I am," manager John Gibbons said, admitting to surprise. "All he's been through, he's defying all the odds really. So many guys that's happened to disappear and then to be able to maintain most of it, I mean he's not popping it like he once did but there's still plenty there."
There really is no plan for McGowan because nobody knows what lies ahead. He's tired of being asked how his shoulder feels after every bullpen session and each outing but those are important questions. The Blue Jays intend to monitor McGowan's innings for as long as this experiment goes. The club, should it choose, could utilize its three April off days to push McGowan back, giving him extra off days in between appearances.
If his shoulder starts to ache, or "bark" as players often say, McGowan's bosses want to hear about it.
"I've told him multiple times, any concerns at all, you're not doing this for us, you're doing this because you want to do it," said general manager Alex Anthopoulos. "He had no problems at all last year. We would have loved to have been able to stretch him out but we weren't in a position to do it."
Halladay tosses ceremonial first pitch
It was an all-too-familiar scene: the great Roy Halladay back on the mound for the home opener in Toronto.
But he wasn't in full uniform and he only had the ceremonial first pitch to deliver.
It was a strike.
"It's pretty cool to be back," said Halladay. "It doesn't seem that long ago when you walk in. It feels like I was just here. It's exciting. I'm enjoying retirement but this is pretty cool to be able to come back here."
Halladay has settled in the Tampa Bay area and went to the Jays' season opener against the Rays on Monday at the behest of his son. He worried that sitting in the stands would be uncomfortable so soon after his retirement.
"I had my doubts," said Halladay. "But, honestly, I enjoyed it and I have no regrets, no disappointments. I'm actually really happy with the choice I made and it was the right choice I made."