While Kerry Wood's career may not have turned out the way most people had envisioned, his final appearance resembled something right out of a Hollywood movie.
The former phenom was set to announce his retirement yesterday afternoon, but he also wanted to take the hill one last time at Wrigley Field. Despite reports that he wouldn't play against the crosstown rival White Sox, Wood got the chance he was hoping for in the eighth inning.
And boy, did he deliver.
Giving Cub fans one last thrill, Wood struck out Dayan Viciedo on three pitches -- the third swinging with his patented curveball, on what would be the final pitch of his career. As Wood walked off the field, fans gave him a standing ovation, while his son Justin ran out to greet him with a hug.
|Photo by: David Banks
With that, let's take a quick walk down memory lane.
For those who are old enough to have a vivid recollection of 1998, it's not a stretch to say Wood had the type of stuff that could have easily made him one of the premier pitchers in all of baseball.
Case in point, May 6th of that year.
With the Central Division-leading Houston Astros in town, the Cubs sent Wood to the mound for only the fifth start of his career.
What followed, was one of the greatest pitching performances in baseball history.
With a fastball reaching triple digits on the gun and a curve that looked like it belonged in a whiffle ball game, Wood made Houston's fearsome lineup -- which included the likes of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Derek Bell, and Moises Alou -- look like they were swinging dead fish at the plate.
Wood gave up only one hit on the day, and tied the major league record with 20 strikeouts, including seven in a row at one point.
For those of us who were fortunate enough to have seen the game in real-time, it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. It was evident on that Wednesday afternoon that any of the great lineups in baseball history would have been helpless against Wood that particular outing. His stuff was that good.
The 20-year-old went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award that season, posting a 13-6 record with a 3.40 ERA and 233 strikeouts over 26 starts.
Unfortunately, Wood encountered elbow problems before the end of the year and underwent Tommy John surgery for a torn ulnar collateral ligament in April of '99.
He was never really the same after that.
Sure, there were occasional flashes of the greatness he had displayed on that chilly afternoon May start at Wrigley back in 1998, but for the most part, it was basically just repeated stays on the disabled list.
So on Friday, after 14 years and 16 trips to the DL, Wood decided it was time to walk away.
"I couldn't have asked for anything more," he said. "I'm not going to look back and say, 'It could have been, what should have been.' It is what it is. I did it for 14 years and I had a blast doing it."
When asked his favorite moment; that 20 strikeout performance? The win against the Atlanta Braves in the fifth and deciding game of the 2003 NLDS? Wood didn't have to go back very far.
"My favorite memory and probably the best memory in the 14 years was yesterday, walking off the field and having my son run out and meet me," he said. "You can't beat that. I knew maybe he might be in the dugout, but I didn't expect him to run out and hug me, and he didn't want to let go. You can't put anything above that."
You know, for a guy plagued by injuries throughout his career, Kerry Wood still managed to leave his fair share of indelible marks on the game of baseball. Yesterday was certainly no exception.
Thanks for the memories Kerry. Thanks a lot.