When Cubs reliever Jason Adam returned to the clubhouse after Game 1 of Friday’s doubleheader vs. the Cardinals, Justin Steele embraced him with a hug.
Adam made his first big-league appearance Friday since sustaining a gruesome ankle injury in May while with Triple-A Iowa. He struck out the side in the seventh inning.
“That was really special to watch,” Steele said.
It’s been a long road back to this point for Adam. He dislocated his left ankle in a freak batting practice injury with Iowa — jumping for a ball and landing awkwardly.
As Adam sat on the field moments after the injury, he thought of quarterback Alex Smith. Smith fractured his right leg in 2018 and then dealt with a serious infection. Adam said he had watched a documentary on Smith about a week before his own injury.
“Obviously, his was worse,” Adam said. “He had the full spiral fracture and all that, but the infection was what caused the problem.
“And I’m like, ‘I’m laying on a dirt field right now.’”
Adam avoided an infection and his doctors reassured him he faced a standard recovery. But a return this season appeared unlikely. There was an almost “0-percent chance,” according to Cubs manager David Ross.
Adam was given a three-month timetable before a return to high-intensity throwing. He attacked his rehab, throwing from his knees while still in a walking boot.
He was back throwing bullpens about a month ago but still felt pain in his ankle. He began questioning whether he'd be able to pitch again in 2021 and when the ankle would feel right again.
“And then it clicked," he said, "and it stopped hurting when I was on the mound.”
Adam threw five straight scoreless appearances with Iowa before the Cubs called him up Friday to be their 29th man for the doubleheader against St. Louis.
“It was an easy callup,” manager David Ross said. “It’s a great story. I’m happy for him, happy he's back. He’s worked his butt off to get to this spot.
“Just seeing his face made me smile today after seeing the pictures of what that thing looked like when he broke it.”
While the last few weeks have been a “whirlwind,” Adam is thankful to be back pitching. He envisioned finishing the season with Iowa, so the big-league promotion is a bonus.
He impressed in his first outing, striking out Nolan Arenado, Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong on a combined 15 pitches in a 1-2-3 inning.
"To have a good performance today was a lot of fun," Adam said.
With all he’s been through, Adam will remember Friday for a long time. The outing evoked similar emotions as his MLB debut.
“It's kind of restored the joy of playing baseball in a lot of ways,” Adam said. “Baseball is a business, and you get caught up in that, but just to realize that it's a gift that I get to play every day.
“In a lot of ways, [Friday] was like the debut, and in a lot of ways it was actually even cooler.”