Pitcher Mike Adams #37 of the San Diego Padres throws from the mound during the Padres 3-1 win over the San Francisco Giants at Petco Park on April 5, 2011 in San Diego, California.
Mike Adams was jogging in outfield grass, another day of his unfair life in the minor leagues, when a sharp pinch jolted his left knee. He had microfracture surgery five months later, and then again, and then again.
Adams, 32, leaned toward his locker where a Finnish trance song blared from the speakers, its rhythmic bass knocking down the walls, turning a pre-game San Diego Padres clubhouse into a 4 a.m. after-party.
The music suited the lanky right-hander, who has hit his second wind.
“I think getting hurt was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Adams said. “It definitely saved my career.”
In 2005, Adams went from cruising with the Milwaukee Brewers to sliding down a prolonged spiral in Triple-A Nashville.
A numbers crunch forced his May demotion. The Brewers needed to clear a roster spot for a returning starter, and Adams had options left. Despite a 2.70 ERA, to Nashville he went, and he wasn’t happy, believing he earned his place on the team.
He pulled a career-worst 5.75 ERA in 36.0 innings with Nashville and didn't play another major-league game that season.
In April 2006, after missing the Opening Day roster, he suffered a knee injury while shagging fly balls before a game. The Brewers promoted him the next day, but after two appearances, it was clear his knee was an issue, and he was sent down again.
In September, he underwent his first of three microfracture surgeries in a 10-month period, the first two procedures to his left knee and the third to his right.
“If I would have stayed healthy, I think I just would have felt sorry for myself the entire time and never really turned the corner mentally,” Adams said. “It gave me a chance to sit back and actually see what I had lost and how much I appreciated what I had.
“It kind of got my fire back. Once I got sent down, I kind of lost that fire a little bit because I was stupid. I wasn’t able to handle it. I lost that fire, and that was really the bottom for me.”
The synthesized riff to the grungy music blasts feet away from the 6-foot-5, 190-pound pitcher.
Here, he has returned.
Adams is nearly halfway through a dominant season, posting a 1.17 ERA and 0.62 WHIP in 30.2 innings. He has struck out 34 and walked only four as the Padres’ eight-inning option.
Sooner or later, on this team or the next, Adams is on a collision course with his goal to become a major-league closer.
Current Padres closer Heath Bell, a two-time All Star, has converted 52 of 53 save chances since May 26, 2010. He is also in the final year of his contract and, if a deal with the club is not reached, may be traded this summer.
Quietly, amid his noise, Adams monitors the situation from across the clubhouse.
Padres manager Bud Black said “Mike would be the guy we would go to” as closer if Bell became unavailable, citing Adams' talent and poise.
That latter quality was a long, important lesson.
“It comes from having adversity,” Adams said. “The only way you can build confidence is if you go through adversity, to get through adversity … I’m a confident person. When I take the mound, I know I’m going to get the job done. I don’t hope. I don’t think. I know.”