by Joe Giglio
Cubs right-hander Kerry Wood called it a career on Friday after one last strikeout. As he walked off the mound to a standing ovation, the game said goodbye to one of the most prolific strikeout pitchers in the history of the game.
As a baseball fan born in 1986, I missed the young, flame-throwing Nolan Ryan, appreciated only the second act of Dwight Gooden’s career, and agreed with Dan Duquette about Roger Clemens being done in the mid-90’s. For my generation, Kerry Wood was Mr. K. He was going to be everything we are watching Stephen Strasburg morph into now. Of course, that never happened.
Still, the 14 years Wood gave were memorable. Here are my Top 10 Kerry Wood memories.
1. 20 years, 20 Ks. It’s hard to imagine ever seeing a better game than the one Wood pitched against the Houston Astros in May of 1998. In fact, it’s the highest rated game ever according to the Bill James Games Score method. 20 Ks, one infield single, one hit batsmen. Houston – a 1998 playoff team – didn’t have a chance against the 20-year-old phenom.
2. 2003 NLDS, Game 5. While it’s hard to think of anything but Steve Bartman when it comes to the ’03 Cubs, their NLCS upset over Atlanta was special. Between Wood and Mark Prior, the young Cubs rotation made the Braves staff look old and worn out. Wood, following up a 7.1 IP, 11 K, 124-pitch effort in Game 1, dominated Atlanta in Turner Field to decide the series. An RBI groundout by Gary Sheffield is all the Braves mustered off him in eight dominant innings.
|Wood retires with 86 career wins, 63 saves, 1582 K|
Picture courtesy of US Presswire
4. Starter-to-reliever: Arm trouble limited not only his career, but also his role. Wood never started more than four games in a season after 2005, becoming a full-time relief man. He recorded 34 saves in 2008.
5. Taking Riggleman off the hook: Many people point to former Cubs manager Jim Riggleman as who to blame for Wood’s arm trouble. He often left him on the mound for 120+ pitches as a kid and brought him back to pitch high pressure games on extended rest. Wood rejected the notion in a 2010 interview. "My elbow was going to go," Wood told the Washington Post. "If it didn't go with [Riggleman] it would've gone with someone else. It was the way I was throwing, the stuff I had, the torque I was generating. It was a matter of time."
6. Fighting back. Considering the injury issues, Wood ending his career five or eight years ago would have surprised few. Instead, he fought on for 14 years.
7. 2003 NLCS, Game 7. Although he didn’t have his best stuff that night, he did bring the bat. Wood’s two-run homer in the second gave Chicago a 5-3 lead.
8. 94.7. His Pitchf/x velocity since 2007. The pitch tracking system wasn’t around when he debuted in 1998, but it’s a good bet that his average fastball speed rivaled what we have seen guys like Strasburg and Chapman dial up in recent years.
9. 1998 NL Rookie of the Year voting. Wood 1, Todd Helton 2. Wood won the award on the strength of one more first-place vote. 14 years later, both took the field this week.
10. The farewell at Wrigley Field. A strike out of Dayan Viciedo, followed by walking off to the cheers of fans, and his young son Justin greeting him at the steps of the dugout as he waved goodbye.
Joe Giglio is a sports talk host at WNST in Baltimore, co-host of the Just a Bit Outside podcast on iTUNES, former intramural coordinator at DeSales University, husband, and baseball fanatic willing to argue Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy at a moment's notice. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports and check out his blog at joegiglio.blogspot.com.