When Nate Robertson took a line drive square off his left kneecap in the second inning of his first start for the 51s Monday, the former Detroit Tigers left-hander feared the worst.
"It was the sound it made when it hit me that worried me most," he said. "It sounded like crushing bone.
"It's really kind of a miracle that nothing did happen."
The 34-year-old, who left the game with a swollen knee, quickly recovered and is scheduled to start today for Las Vegas (57-42) against Reno (59-41) at Cashman Field.
The line shot was the latest blow absorbed by Robertson in his battle to get back to the big leagues - where he last pitched in 2010.
Six years removed from starting Game 3 of the 2006 World Series for the Tigers, Robertson started three games for the independent Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts - his hometown team of which he is a co-owner - before signing with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Despite bouncing around to five big league organizations since Detroit traded Robertson to Florida late in spring training 2010, he still believes in his ability and doesn't want to retire with any regrets.
"I'm 34 and I've had a lot of fun playing the game, but I feel like I can still go out and compete at the highest level and get outs," he said. "I'm going to make sure whenever that day comes when I walk away, it's out of my system and I did everything I could to get back to where I feel like I belong still."
Robertson played parts of seven seasons (2003 to 2009) for Detroit, where he was part of teams that suffered an American League-record 119 losses in 2003 and captured the Tigers' first AL pennant in 22 years in 2006.
"I was in Detroit when times were really tough, when we lost 119," he said. "To get from that point to being a starting pitcher in the World Series was so very rewarding."
Robertson recorded career bests in victories (13) and ERA (3.84) in 2006, when he made three postseason starts.
He fired five shutout innings and outdueled Oakland Athletics ace Barry Zito to win Game 1 of the AL Championship Series. He also pitched well in the World Series, holding St. Louis to two runs on five hits in five innings, but the Tigers were blanked 5-0 by Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter.
While St. Louis won the series in five games, Robertson still believes Detroit possessed the superior squad.
"It's not always the best baseball team that wins," he said. "In that World Series, we were definitely the best team."
Robertson suffered from a dead arm during part of 2007, when his numbers dipped, and his ERA soared to a career-worst 6.35 in 2008.
He was moved to the bullpen in 2009, his last season with Detroit.
"I loved everything about Detroit," he said. "What a great time of my life."
After struggling with the Marlins, Robertson was designated for assignment and since then has toiled in the farm systems of the Cardinals, Phillies, Mariners and Cubs.
"Bouncing around is not good," he said. "I'm trying to find a home, and in order to do that I have to be consistent."
Robertson hasn't done that in the Pacific Coast League, posting a 7.14 ERA as a starter for Tacoma last season and a 8.10 ERA this year for Iowa.
"I haven't had a whole lot of success in this league," he said with a wry laugh. "The PCL has kicked me right in the butt."
■ NOTE - 51s starter Jesse Chavez left the game in the first inning Friday after taking a line drive off his left shin by Reno leadoff hitter Adam Eaton.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.