Phils' Werth has emerged as a star after injury nearly ruined his career
An A.J. Burnett fastball decimated Werth's wrist just before the 2005 season
After L.A. let him go, Phillies GM Pat Gillick scooped him up on a free-agent deal
Werth had 36 HRs, 99 RBIs and 20 steals this year, making his first All-Star team
PHILADELPHIA -- Most days from May to August in 2006 Jayson Werth pushed his boat off shore, aimlessly floated and dropped a hook into Lake Springfield, bottom fishing for carp and the occasional bass.
"There's not a whole lot to catch in that lake," admits Werth, now the Phillies' starting right fielder. "I was just killing time, really."
Such a schedule would be a dream for the hobbyist fisherman, but these were summer months and, at 27, Werth should have been in the middle of his baseball prime. The Orioles' first-round pick in 1997 out of Glenwood High in Chatham, Ill., he made his major league debut in 2002 with the Blue Jays and started to hit his stride in '04 with the Dodgers, belting 16 home runs in just 89 games.
Werth was slated to open the '05 season as the Dodgers' everyday right fielder, only to be hit by a tailing A.J. Burnett fastball in the spring training opener, breaking the radius bone in his left wrist. He returned to play 102 games but batted just .234 with only seven home runs. Further examination of his wrist after the season found two torn ligaments, shelving Werth for all of '06 and sending him home to his native Springfield, Ill.
"I was in a weird place," recalls Werth. "I was given two and a half months to contemplate life. It wasn't like I was depressed. I was just really unsure about what was going to happen. My wrist was not capable of playing in the big leagues. I felt like my mind and my body were very capable, but I had an injury that no one at the time knew what was wrong."
One day at home, while checking the mailbox, Werth was approached by a family friend, who was an orthopedic surgeon. The doctor asked how the wrist was doing, heard Werth explain his futile attempts for second and third opinions and suggested he travel to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. There, Werth met a wrist specialist and pioneer in the field, Dr. Richard Berger, who made a new diagnosis -- a "split tear" of the ulnotriquetal ligament -- and operated on Werth.
The Dodgers, however, were unconvinced their outfielder would return to form and did not tender him a contract, but the next morning Phillies general manager Pat Gillick -- who was Baltimore's general manager when Werth was drafted -- called to offer an $850,000 free-agent deal.
Werth's playing time and production have improved almost exponentially in his three seasons in South Philly. Though he lacks the star power of teammates Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley and didn't have a scorching, attention-grabbing hot streak to start the season like Raul Ibaņez, Werth has gone from batting .298 with eight homers, 49 RBIs and seven stolen bases as a part-time player in 2007 to hitting .273 with 24 homers, 67 RBIs and 20 steals as the primary right fielder on the '08 World Series champions to hitting .268 with 36 homers, 99 RBIs and 20 steals this season. A season when, at age 30, he became an All-Star for the first time.
Jayson Werth is a patient man. In the batter's box, as he takes pitch after pitch, "I always feel like I have something better coming," he says.
In the first inning of last Wednesday's NLCS Game 5, Werth batted with two on and two out. Los Angeles had taken the early lead on an Andre Ethier homer in the top of the first, but Werth was in no rush to strike back. Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla started him with five straight fastballs, the first three barely off the outside corner, but the next two decidedly in the strike zone. Werth swung at none of them.
Only when he was good, ready and facing a full count did he deign to swing his maple MaxBat. The sixth pitch, also a fastball, Werth fouled out of play. And when Padilla's seventh straight four-seam fastball caught the middle of the plate, Werth pounded it deep into the bleachers beyond right-center field to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead.
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