5/19 A perfect ending
I’ve covered Kerry Wood since he was drafted by the Cubs, and feel as if I’ve seen every one of his 1,582 strikeouts. His 20-K game on May 6, 1998, is still my favorite. What most people don’t know is that he was happiest that day because he didn’t walk any one. I’ve also watched most of his rehab outings, too. He is resilient (Ron Santo wins for being most resilient person). Wood went on the disabled list this year for the 16th time. Now, he only needs to use his right arm to carry his kids.
In 2000, we talked about strikeouts for my book, “Banks to Sandberg to Grace.” He said:
“I like strikeouts. They give you a little rush of adrenaline. And there’s days when I want to go out and get 27 ground balls if I can. But the days you go out, and you feel good, and you have good stuff, and you go 0-1 or 0-3 on a hitter – those are good days. I was talking to one of my buddies who’s a left-hander and not a strikeout pitcher, and I said, “When you get 0-1 on a hitter, what are you thinking?” And he said he never thinks about strikeouts, even when he’s got two strikes on a guy. I go 0-1, I’m looking for a strikeout in those situations. And when I get two strikes on a guy, the majority of the time, I’m looking for a strikeout.”
Dayan Viciedo didn’t have a chance on Friday in the eighth when he fell behind 0-2 to Wood.
In ’98, he was National League Rookie of the Year with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts. He missed all of 1999 after needing elbow surgery. He returned as a starter, and in 2003, struck out 266 batters and was 14-11. His highlight that season? Hitting a home run in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Marlins.
Shoulder surgery sidelined him in ’05, and he would return in ’07 as a reliever. Wood took over as closer in ’08, saving 34 games – the perfect number – and helping the Cubs get to the postseason again. His two years in the American League gave him a chance to learn more about the game from Yankees superstar Mariano Rivera. And then he returned home in 2011.
Wood and I worked together last year on a book to be released later this month, part of a “Be All You Can Be” series for children. His message to kids was don’t give up, no matter what setbacks you’re dealt with. He knows. Wood thought about retiring before, when his arm was too high maintenance, but kept pitching because he loved the game. This year, it was too tough to bounce back.
As much of an impact as he had on the field, he was an even bigger presence in the clubhouse. The players know. I’ve watched him grow up from the gangly teen drafted by the Cubs in 1995 to the 34-year-old father of three who could still throw a fastball at 96 mph. But that was the last heater.
Rarely do players decide when to walk away. On Friday, Wood made the call, and it was the perfect ending.
– Carrie Muskat