CHICAGO -- After two shaky starts, Chien-Ming Wang showed Tuesday night that he still has life in his right arm as the Nationals defeated the Cubs, 3-1, at Wrigley Field.
How good was Wang on this day? He looked like the pitcher who won a combined 38 games for the Yankees in 2006 and '07. In fact, he had a no-hitter after five innings, broken up in the sixth, when pinch-hitter Tony Campana led off the inning with an infield single. However, Wang was able to retire the next three hitters, Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Blake DeWitt.
"Wang was good and threw ground ball after ground ball. He did it pretty efficiently," Cubs manager Mike Quade said.
Wang was ready to lead off in the top of the seventh inning, but after throwing 81 pitches, he was done for the night. Manager Davey Johnson said that had Wang had his no-hitter entering the seventh, Wang still would have been out of the game.
"That was enough for me. I'm glad he gave up the hit," Johnson said. "If he had more starts [prior to Tuesday], I would have [let him go on]. ... He got to 80 pitches and he threw six innings. ... Six shutout innings, one hit, I wasn't going to run him out there."
Wang relied heavily on his sinker, and it paid off as he threw 11 ground-ball outs. He struck out one batter and walked two. It was Wang's first victory since June 28, 2009, against the Mets. Wang had missed more than two years of action because of shoulder problems.
In his previous two starts, Wang relied too much on his secondary pitches. For example, last week in a 6-4 loss to the Braves, Wang threw a slider to second baseman Dan Uggla, who hit a three-run homer.
"The last two outings, the sinker wasn't that good, so the ball wasn't down enough," Wang said. "That's why they got me really well. So in the bullpen session, I was working on my release point, so I think today's outing was a good outing."
Wang said he was thankful to the Nationals for helping him get that first victory.
"For me, it means a lot because it has been two years, and it's not a short time," Wang said. "I just wanted to pitch well, help the team out. I really appreciate all my teammates."
Johnson had a feeling Wang was going to have a quality start after watching his bullpen session before the game. It was during the session that pitching coach Steve McCatty reminded Wang to constantly throw his sinker. Sixty-six out of the 81 pitches that Wang threw were sinkers, and he was able to be successful even though the wind was blowing out.
"I tried to throw more sinkers today," Wang said. "The pitching coach -- McCatty -- kind of reminded me that I needed to stay on top of the ball. I think that really helped the ball get the sink."
Before Wang's start, McCatty recently spoke to Rockies first baseman Jason Giambi, a former teammate of Wang's when both were with the Yankees. Giambi told McCatty that Wang threw mostly sinkers when he pitched in New York. The conversation with Giambi convinced McCatty that Wang should stick with what made him successful, and it paid off.
"He kept the ball down. Real nice job. Outstanding," McCatty said.
Of all Wang's teammates on the Nationals, Jonny Gomes is one guy who knew what it was like to face Wang during his prime. Gomes said he saw vintage Wang on Tuesday.
"We did not like facing him at all," said Gomes, who was with the Rays when he first faced Wang. "We used to call it the 94-mile-an-hour bowling ball. You knew it was coming. It was 80 percent sinkers, and you still couldn't hit it. You have seen it for the first time, but I've seen it many times."
The Nationals gave Wang run support in the sixth inning against right-hander Matt Garza. Michael Morse led off the inning, swung at a 3-1 pitch and hit a solo home run over the center-field wall, his 20th. Morse became the seventh player in Nationals history to hit 20 homers in a season.
After Jayson Werth singled, Gomes swung at the first pitch he saw and homered over the left-center-field wall, his 13th, to give Washington the three-run lead.
Washington's bullpen came through as Drew Storen saved his 30th game of the season. Storen said it felt special to save a game for Wang.
"His performance tonight was unbelievable," Storen said. "What he has gone through and how long he has worked to get back, that's really nice to lock that down for him. It's a big performance for him, and hopefully he could build off that."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.