Kerry Wood made his major league debut on April 12, 1998 in Montreal against the Expos.
The first hitter he faced was Mark Grudzielanek, who would later become his teammate on the 2003 NL Central champion Cubs.
Kerry struck him out swinging on a 3-2 pitch. Wood lost that game, but four starts later... aw, you know what he did. We went over that in detail this morning.
This afternoon at Wrigley Field, Kerry Wood faced the White Sox' Dayan Viciedo in a game situation, with the Cubs trailing 3-2 and a runner on first base with one out. He struck him out swinging on three pitches, the final pitches he would throw in the major leagues all strikes. Then Jamie Quirk -- who was leading the team after Dale Sveum's ejection -- came out to replace him with James Russell.
Six years ago, when Greg Maddux left the field during a game which most everyone knew was likely his final game in a Cubs uniform, he left to a thunderous ovation. The cheers that accompanied Wood's walk to the dugout -- during which he hugged his teammates, picked up his son and waved his cap to the crowd -- felt more mournful, cheers for a great career that could have happened, but didn't due to injuries. If you as a Cubs fan weren't moved to tears during Wood's walk... well, let's just say that I was, and I don't think I was alone.
The cheers for Kerry Wood, a standup guy in every way, represented, I think, everything we feel as a Cubs fan. Hope crushed, the dreams of victories and championships tempered by troubles and injuries and unforeseen problems, things that could be great that never are. Yet we persevere, we return, we keep coming back, hoping against hope that today will be the day, that this year will be the year.
And it never is. Someday, we still hope it will be. Even today, it really was exactly like that -- Wood's successful one-batter outing keeping the Cubs in the game, and then the false hope given when Alex Rios lost Darwin Barney's ball in the sun for a two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth double, putting the tying run on second base.
The fairy tale would have had Reed Johnson driving him in to tie the game, or even hitting a walkoff home run. But Reed struck out, and the Cubs lost. Sort of the way Kerry Wood's career went -- hope for a time, cheers for a while, and then defeat, or injuries, or some other failure.
Thank you, Kerry Wood, for wonderful memories, indelible things I will never forget -- the 20K game, the 2003 playoff run, the home run on your return from Tommy John surgery -- and for being a standup guy, never making excuses; the glove-throwing incident aside. Wood addressed that in his postgame remarks:
Wood: I didn't want the last inning to be me throwing my glove into the seats. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 18, 2012
I'm happy for him that he was able to go out on his own terms, and with a strikeout. The ovation was for a career unfulfilled, for promise never achieved, and for what Kerry Wood represented -- the lost hopes of all of us who are Cubs fans, a personal embodiment of the dreams we all have, and that he now shares as a retired player, a Chicago resident who will root for his former team for the rest of his life, and hopefully become a part of the organization in some capacity. I don't have a lot of favorite players, but Kerry Wood is right at the top of the list.
There is one statistical achievement for Wood in his career that he, and all of us, can be proud of: there are just three pitchers in major-league history who have thrown at least 1,000 innings and struck out at least 10 hitters per nine innings. Wood, obviously, is one of them, at 10.3 per nine innings. The other two? Randy Johnson (10.61) and Pedro Martinez (10.04). Obviously, the others did it in far longer careers, but this suggests the kind of pitcher Wood could have been, the unfulfilled promise.
Incidentally, the Cubs lost to the White Sox 3-2, dropping to their lowest point of the season at nine games under .500 at 15-24. This recap is already getting pretty long; there were a whole bunch of notes, any of which could be their own post:
- Paul Konerko getting hit in the face by Jeff Samardzija after Konerko had hit a two-run homer. It did not appear intentional and Konerko, despite some facial swelling, will apparently be OK. That's good news.
- Another egregiously awful umpiring call by Eric Cooper, who allowed Gordon Beckham to push David DeJesus off second base and tag him out after DeJesus had slid in safe with a double. Replay now, please.
- Beckham later hitting a home run that was the difference in the game.
- Geovany Soto going down with a meniscus tear that will require surgery; he'll be out at least a month. Soto is not yet on the DL; 29-year-old Blake Lalli was recalled from Iowa as a temporary backup to Welington Castillo. To make room, Chris Volstad was optioned to Iowa. Yes, apparently Volstad did have options left. The Cubs will need to make another roster move before Tuesday, which would have been Volstad's next start; Travis Wood is the likely candidate. Steve Clevenger was seen hitting in the cage today; perhaps he can be activated soon. To replace Kerry Wood, I assume yet another move will be made Saturday. Jeff Beliveau, who is on the 40-man roster and has been throwing well at Iowa, is a prime candidate. With Wood's retirement, the 40-man roster will have an open slot.
- Samardzija threw another nice game; his two mistakes, the homers by Konerko and Beckham, were the difference. Philip Humber threw his best game since his perfect game, which was also a day game. Humber's day-game ERA was more than a run lower than his night-game ERA before today; maybe that's the difference for him. Humber throwing behind Bryan LaHair, though -- that was ridiculous. No need to start that kind of thing.
There's probably something I forgot on what was probably the nicest weather day of the season so far, 76 degrees at game time with a light southeast breeze. What would be nicer would be some Cubs victories. Maybe the bullpen will get some of the help it needs.
But for now, again, thank you, Kerry Wood, for the baseball memories you've given me. They will last forever.