They brought Kid K out for one last strikeout, and he got it.
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It was the perfect way for Kerry Wood’s career to end. He struck out Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox, then got to walk off the Wrigley Field mound the right way.
His last time, he had angrily thrown his glove up into the crowd. But this time, on Friday, Wood slowly walked back to the dugout, took a deep breath, blew it out and crossed over the third base line. Then his young son, Justin, in a Cubs blue shirt and helmet, jumped out onto the field. Wood picked him up and hugged him, and the sky was blue, and Wrigley Field was beautiful, and the crowd was cheering and even White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was clapping.
What a moment. Goodbye, Kerry Wood. He unexpectedly announced his retirement from the Cubs on Friday, knowing it was time. He has lost it, and the face of a generation of this franchise is now gone. Cubs fans will love him forever.
He deserves it. But I’m sorry, I have a hard time looking at him at all. It’s not his fault, really. He is just another painful, walking symbol of the Cubs. He is another generation come and gone, empty.
The scene surrounding his goodbye Friday? It was like a Norman Rockwell painting, and that’s all Wrigley Field is about. It’s certainly not about winning. It’s about fathers and sons and warm moments. But it’s also about losing and losing and losing.
Not to mention losing. As a Chicagoan, I’ve grown to resent that Norman Rockwell thing.
It is just so typical that Wood — and Mark Prior — left without one World Series appearance. They were the saviors. And in 2003, they were pitching back-to-back in the NLCS. One win would have gotten the Cubs to the Series.
As a rookie, Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros in what might have been the most dominant game ever pitched. He led the Cubs to the playoffs. He helped them to win a playoff series. He hit a home run in Game 7 of the NLCS.
And he was always hurt. Always hurt. And he always fought through the injuries and always came back to the Cubs. He never complained. Even after he left to play for Cleveland, and then the New York Yankees, he passed up higher offers to come back to Wrigley.
He deserves the best of farewells. But I’m sorry, he means more than that.
He is Ernie Banks. Ron Santo. Billy Williams. Mark Grace. It is some sort of sick Cubs Hall of Fame that never was.
Wood was a phenom, and so much was expected of him, especially when he was paired in the rotation with Prior. Wood did his best. He fought his hardest. It isn’t his fault.
But there have just been too many losing generations to take.
I mean, Wood was asked what some of his favorite moments were, and the first thing he listed was his homer in the second inning of Game 7 of the NLCS against the Marlins. It tied the game 3-3.
I was there. All Cubs fans were both in pain and nervous that night. It was the game after the Bartman incident. You know, when the fan was accused (wrongfully) of interfering with the game, costing the Cubs a spot in the World Series. The Cubs didn’t lose because of some fan.
Anyway, that was just Game 6. The Cubs had one more chance that year, and Wood was pitching. That’s when he hit his homer.
"I’m a pitcher," he said, laughing. "You know I’m going to remember hitting."
But, see, how can that be his greatest moment? That specific game was actually one of the worst moments in Cubs history. The Cubs lost that game, and lost the pennant with it.
The interesting thing is that Wood didn’t list his 20-strikeout game.
"It raised expectations for me every time I took the mound," he said. "(There was) a label from it. But I’m not going to say it was all bad."
When Wood struck out those 20 Houston batters, Cubs fans thought they had their Tom Seaver, their Nolan Ryan, their World Series.
We Chicagoans started calculating how many thousands of strikeouts he would get in his career, how many victories.
The Cubs had thrown away Greg Maddux in typical Cubdom, but now here was something even better.
Eventually, Wood wasn’t even a starter. His shoulder couldn’t take all those innings in a row, so he went to the bullpen. He ended up with 1,582 strikeouts, an 86-75 record, 63 saves and 24 blown saves.
And no World Series appearances.
I never really liked it when he came back after pitching with the Yankees. Cubs fans loved it, but Wood just seemed to be part of a failed past. The Cubs needed to move forward.
Well, that’s the discomfort of being a Cub fan, of watching all this mixed up and messed up stuff. Wood is gone now, and you wonder who will be the next member of the group. Which current Cub will symbolize this timeframe? Alfonso Soriano?
Wood was a solid pitcher who did good things. That hug, actually, might have been the most memorable thing. What could be better? Nothing at Wrigley Field, for sure.