His doctors can't explain it. Other baseball players want to know how he's defied conventional medical wisdom. And years from now, it is possible that athletes and others who have suffered a torn rotator cuff and opt for rehabilitation over surgery might undergo the "Todd Stottlemyre program."
"It's a miracle, no question about it," said Stottlemyre, who allowed just one run over 6 2/3 innings Wednesday night to help the Arizona Diamondbacks tie their first-round National League playoff series with the New York Mets at a game apiece with a 7-1 victory. "I'm extremely thankful and know now that each start for me is a gift."
It might have taken a potentially career-ending injury for Stottlemyre, 34, to realize how good he has it as a major league player. For much of his career he was labeled an underachiever, a talented pitcher who let his emotions get the better of him on the mound, particularly during the postseason.
Stottlemyre has a pair of World Series rings from the 1992 and '93 Toronto Blue Jays and made the playoffs with the 1996 St. Louis Cardinals and 1998 Texas Rangers. But he carried a 6.56 postseason earned run average into his start against the Mets, along with the reputation of letting his temper control his performance.
"When I was younger, I didn't always react the right way," Stottlemyre said. "My intensity was completely out of control, but those experiences have helped me have better times."
Most sobering was the diagnosis May 17 that he had suffered a torn rotator cuff, which traditionally requires surgery and a minimum of one-year rehabilitation. No pitcher had returned without surgery and even with surgery, some were never the same. "For a pitcher, it's like having the grim reaper show up at the door," said Diamondbacks catcher Kelly Stinnett. "We all assumed we wouldn't be seeing him for a long time, possibly ever."
Last winter, Stottlemyre signed a four-year contract with Arizona for $32 million. The deal is guaranteed, but Stottlemyre didn't want to miss out on what already was developing into a promising season for the second-year franchise.
He met with Diamondbacks team physician David Zeman, who laid out the options. Stottlemyre could rehabilitate the injury, but he would have to deal with the possibility of his career coming to a horrific end during any pitch.
"It never heals," Zeman said. "Everything that's happened is very encouraging, but he's going to have to deal with this for the rest of his career."
Stottlemyre talked with Jack McDowell, the former Chicago White Sox star who has struggled to regain his early '90s form following rotator cuff surgery, and realized he might never recover fully if he had the operation. Stottlemyre thought of former Cardinals teammate Alan Benes, who returned late this season after being sidelined two years.
Stottlemyre told Zeman to put together a rehabilitation program. For the first month after the diagnosis, the pitcher did not pick up a ball, instead undergoing an intense regimen of light weightlifting and stretching. He built up the area around the injury and added 19 pounds of muscle to his legs and upper body. Then, with the help of team pitching coach Mark Connor, he revamped his pitching style, using his legs more to take pressure off his arm.
Stottlemyre returned Aug. 20 and went 2-2 in eight starts. Remarkably, he was throwing the ball harder, with his fastball clocked at 92 to 93 mph, up from the high 80s.
"For someone to be able to change their mechanics so quickly and adjust is just amazing," Zeman said. "There's no explanation for why all of this has worked for him and not others."
Stottlemyre, who will not pitch again in the first round but could start Game 1 of the National League Championship Series if Arizona advances, said he has been stunned at how little soreness he experiences after pitching. On the mound, he's able to block out the distinct possibility that the next pitch could be his last.
"I can't pitch if I'm scared," Stottlemyre said. "I can't be afraid to cut it loose and I'm not. I have a program of stretching and rehabilitation that I'm going to have to follow for the rest of my career. But I can live with that."
CAPTION: Todd Stottlemyre, older, calmer and recovered from a rotator cuff injury, defeated the Mets, 7-1, in Game 2.