One Final K for Kerry Wood

Kerry Wood gets a hug from his son after striking out his final batter this afternoon.

What I love about baseball is that every night there’s a chance that something special will happen. This afternoon, on what would seem like just your ordinary Friday (well besides the fact that it’s the first weekend of inter-league play) there was only one day game. That game happened to be the battle of North vs. South Chicago, with the White Sox squaring off with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. It also happened to be the final appearance of a pitcher who could have been one of the greatest fireball throwers ever, if not for the chronic injury troubles that he faced in his career. That pitcher would be Kerry Lee Wood, who over the course of his 14 year career struck out 1,582 batters.

Growing up in Texas, Kerry Wood was destined for stardom after becoming a standout at MacArthur High school in Irving, Texas and then Grand Prairie High School in Grand Prairie, Texas for his senior season. He was drafted as the fourth overall selection in the 1995 draft by the Chicago Cubs and after spending 3 seasons in the minor leagues he made his debut with the Cubs on April 12, 1998. Five starts later, on May 6 of that year he threw one of the most incredible performances that I have ever witnessed, striking out 20 Houston Astros (tying Roger Clemens record for K’s in a game) and coming within one infield single by Ricky Gutierrez and a Craig Biggio hit by pitch away from a perfect game. You can find that boxscore here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CHN/CHN199805060.shtml. After that game, the Cubs knew that had come across a good one. He finished his rookie season going 13-6 with a 3.40 ERA, and won the 1998 Rookie of the Year award.

Unfortunately it went downhill from there, and Wood missed his whole sophomore campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The next season, in 2000, he struggled to an 8-7 record with a 4.80 ERA, but returned to form in 2001 going 12-6 with a 3.36 ERA. In 2002, Wood did not miss a start, and set career highs in innings pitched (213 2/3), and starts (33). 2003 was arguably the best season for Wood as he set career highs in strikeouts (266), wins (14-11 record that year), ERA (3.20) and two shutouts. Wood also earned two wins in the NLCS that year against the Braves, including defeating Mike Hampton in game 5 to clinch that series.

Wood and Mark Prior (right) are two pitchers who faced injury troubles after being overworked by the Cubs.

Wood had another down year in 2004 and the injuries continued to rack up as he missed two months with a strained triceps. In 2005, Wood again had surgery, and missed the final month of the year, and then during spring training 2006 Wood suffered several injuries including a freak knee injury that required surgery after falling out of a hot tub. In 2007, Wood came back to the Cubs as a relief pitcher, and earned the role of closer coming out of spring training. He recorded 34 saves in 39 opportunities with 82 strikeouts and was selected to the 2008 MLB All-Star game as a reliever. In late 2008, after the Cubs decided not to re-sign him to a long-term deal he signed with the Cleveland Indians and he recorded 20 saves for them in 2009 and 8 in 2010 before being traded to the New York Yankees that season. For the Evil Empire, Wood made 24 appearances (including 21 straight scoreless appearances), but the Yankees still declined to exercise their option on him.

That brought him back to the Cubs for one last hurrah, and Wood has pitched the last two seasons with Chicago’s National League team. After posting a 3.35 ERA last year, Wood has struggled this season, and earlier today it was reported by ESPN that Wood would retire after his next appearance. That appearance came this afternoon, after he struck out the only batter he faced, the Chicago White Sox’ Dayan Viciedo in the 8th inning of today’s ballgame.

In Kerry Wood’s post-game interview at Wrigley Field he said “”You know it was just time, time to give someone else a chance.” Well, Kerry, thanks for giving us the chance to watch you play over the past 14 years. Wood leaves his mark in the record books as the fastest pitcher to reach 1000 strikeouts in both appearances and innings (134 games, 853 innings respectively). As I mentioned before he also is tied with Roger Clemens for strikeouts in a 9 inning game with 20. Kerry Wood was also a two-time All-Star selection, and he led the National League in strikeouts in 2003. Wood also finishes his career in second place all time in strikeouts per 9 innings, averaging over 10.3 which is astonishing. It really is a shame that he dealt with so many injuries over the course of his career, because he truly was one of the most exciting pitchers to watch and he could blow fastballs by anyone while at his best. First beer tonight is to his career.

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