Kerry Wood’s 446th major league appearance Friday was his last. There were rumblings before the game that Wood was ready to retire but wanted to pitch in one more game before hanging up his cleats. That came in the eighth inning of what ended up a 3-2 Cubs loss to the crosstown White Sox at Wrigley Field.
Wood needed three pitches to dispose of White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo, striking him out. He left the field to a standing ovation, as Cubs fans realized how special the moment was. The faithful at Wrigley showered Wood with their appreciation for everything he did for the team in his dozen years with the club.
Now that it’s over, we take a moment to reflect about the great things we saw, and wonder about what might have been.
Chicago Cubs (1998-2008)
Wood made his major league debut with the Cubs on April 12, 1998 against the Montreal Expos. Wood took the loss that afternoon, going 4.2 innings and allowing four runs on four hits, walking three, hitting a batter and fanning seven. The strikeout total was impressive but it paled in comparison to what Wood did less than a month later against the Houston Astros in a game at Wrigley Field.
In what was only his fifth major league start on May 6, Wood surrendered one hit, an infield single by Ricky Gutierrez. He also hit a batter, walked none and fanned a record tying 20 batters. Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson are the only other pitchers to strike out 20 hitters in a nine inning game. The Cubs were victorious 2-0; Wood’s performance is the highest rated game ever using statistician Bill James’ Game Score system.
Wood finished the season 13-6 with a 3.40 earned run average, striking out 233 hitters in 26 starts. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award despite missing the final month of the season because of elbow soreness. The Cubs made the playoffs for the first time since 1989 but were wiped out by the Atlanta Braves in the divisional round. Wood took the defeat in Game Three. Wood underwent Tommy John surgery in the spring of 1999, missing the season.
After a couple up and down seasons following surgery, Wood put things together again in 2003 when he posted a 14-11 record with a 3.20 earned run average. He also led the league with 266 strikeouts; paired with Mark Prior at the top of the Cubs rotation, the team won their first division title in 14 years and their first playoff series since winning the 1908 World Series.
Wood suffered through a myriad of injuries in the next few years, including a partially torn rotator cuff. He converted to a relief pitcher in 2007 and saved 34 games for the Cubs in 2008, which made the postseason both years. Wood priced himself out of the Cubs plans and signed a two year deal worth $20.5 million with the Cleveland Indians.
Cleveland Indians (2009-2010)
Wood struggled during his time with the Indians. He finished the 2009 season with a record of 3-3 and a 4.25 earned run average in 58 games. He picked up 20 saves for Cleveland during the season. A pair of trips to the disabled list, first for a back muscle strain and then for a blister on his index finger, took him out of the running as the closer for 2010.
Wood was 1-4 with an unsightly 6.30 earned run average in 23 appearances for Cleveland in 2010. He had eight saves but was supplanted by Chris Perez as the closer for the Indians. On July 31, 2010, the Indians traded Wood to the New York Yankees in exchange for Andrew Chive, Matt Cusick and cash.
New York Yankees (2010)
Wood posted 21 consecutive scoreless appearances and finished the season 2-0 with a 0.69 earned run average in 24 outings for New York. He also pitched well in the postseason, as the Yankees swept aside the Minnesota Twins in the divisional round. The Yankees fell to the Texas Rangers in six games in the American League Championship Series.
Wood allowed two runs in eight innings in the postseason, recording three holds. On October 27, the Yankees announced they would not exercise Wood’s option, making him a free agent.
Back to Chicago (2011-2012)
Wood returned to Chicago, signing a one year deal worth $1.5 million on December 16, 2010. Wood was 3-5 with a 3.35 earned run average in 55 games for the Cubs in 2011. He averaged better than a strikeout per inning, fanning 57 hitters in 51 innings of work. Wood signed a new deal for one year and $3 million, with an option for 2013.
Wood missed most of spring training with injuries and never got back into form during the regular season. He was on the disabled list again and after returning, gave up two runs in back to back appearances, including a 3-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves where he was the losing pitcher. He was erratic and unable to find the strike zone with consistency.
For one last shining moment, Cubs fans go to see what Wood could do when he was on his game; throwing the ball and hitting his spots where no hitter could do much with it.
What is your favorite Kerry Wood memory?