Kerry Wood wanted to make one final appearance at Wrigley Field this afternoon before announcing his retirement and it couldn’t have been scripted much better for the longtime Cub.
Wood came into a 3-2 game with one out in the eighth inning and struck out Dayan Viciedo on three pitches, the first of which was a 95-mph fastball and the last of which was a 76-mph breaking ball in the dirt that the White Sox outfielder couldn’t help but swing through.
It was pretty close to vintage Wood, or at least close enough that it was tough not to think “wait, this guy is retiring?!”
Wood, who shook the bullpen coach’s hand before coming into the game, was removed after fittingly finishing his career with a strikeout and tipped his cap to the fans giving him a standing ovation. And then his young son ran onto the field to give him a hug.
Helluva scene for a helluva career.
UPDATE: Here’s the MLB.com video of Wood’s final appearance and dramatic exit.
People have been writing about Kerry Wood’s rookie pitch counts for more than a decade now, so I’m not exactly breaking new ground here, but now that he’s retiring it’s worth noting again just how hard the Cubs and then-manager Jim Riggleman worked their 21-year-old phenom in 1998.
Wood made a total of 26 starts as a rookie and topped 100 pitches in 21 of them, including the following pitch counts: 133, 129, 128, 123, 123, 122, 122, 121, 118, 118, 117, 116, 115.
I can’t even imagine a 21-year-old stud prospect being allowed to come anywhere near that workload now and yet Wood did it just 14 seasons ago. He then blew out his elbow, missed the entire next season, and didn’t start a game after age 29.
Wood had a helluva career, but I’d love to go back in time and tell Riggleman to loosen the reins a bit just to see what could have been.
If Kerry Wood makes one final appearance at Wrigley Field before announcing his retirement he won’t be throwing to Geovany Soto, as the Cubs catcher has been diagnosed with a partially torn meniscus in his left knee and needs arthroscopic surgery that will sideline him for at least three weeks.
Manager Dale Sveum told Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune that Soto will likely be placed on the disabled list after the game, leaving 25-year-old rookie Welington Castillo as the Cubs’ primary catcher.
Castillo had a very modest minor-league track record prior to reaching Triple-A, where he hit .274 with 30 homers and an .852 OPS in 147 total games. His lack of plate discipline could be a problem in the majors, but it won’t be very tough to replace Soto’s production.
Soto still has 20-homer power, but no longer looks anything like the all-around impact player who won Rookie of the Year honors in 2008 and has hit just .216 with a .690 OPS in 153 games since the beginning of last season.
Kerry Wood has struggled since returning from a disabled list stint two weeks ago, allowing five runs in six innings following a month off because of a shoulder injury, and now the one-time phenom turned quality setup man has decided to call it a career at age 34.
Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago reports that Wood will announce his retirement today following a 14-year career, but Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports that Wood will be available out of the bullpen one final time for this afternoon’s game against the White Sox at Wrigley Field. That would be one hell of a sendoff.
Wood burst onto the scene as a flame-throwing, unhittable 21-year-old rookie in 1998, striking out 20 batters in one of the most dominant performances in baseball history, but then blew out his elbow and missed all of 1999. He returned as a very effective starter, posting a 3.68 ERA in 138 starts from 2000-2004 and topping 200 strikeouts in three straight seasons, including a league-leading 266 whiffs in 2003.
However, after more injuries limited Wood to a total of 114 innings from 2005-2007 he shifted to the bullpen full time and established himself as a quality setup man. He was excellent for the Cubs last season, taking less money to return to Chicago and then posting a 3.35 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 51 innings, but this year he’s walked 11 batters in eight innings.
It’s a shame we never got to see what a healthy Wood was truly capable of, because the rookie who took the baseball world by storm in 1998 was absolutely amazing to watch and racked up a ridiculous 233 strikeouts in 167 innings before his arm gave out. He came back to throw 1,213 innings with a 3.71 ERA and 10.0 strikeouts per nine frames, which is a damn fine career by itself, but he made just two All-Star teams and never received a single Cy Young vote.
Wood’s right arm was capable of so much more if it didn’t let him down repeatedly, but it’s nice to see him go out as a Cub considering how much he loved Chicago. And he’ll be remembered long after pitchers with twice as many wins are forgotten.