|Kerry Wood embraces his son Justin as|
he left the Wrigley Field mound for the
last time on Friday.
A strikeout was an appropriate way for Wood to go out. I remember well the afternoon in 1998 in which the precocious Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros. I was watching that game on WGN, in no small part because I had his opposite number, Shane Reynolds, on a fantasy team. It was a very overcast day at Wrigley, about as dim as it gets -- and it was tough enough to hit Wood when you could see.
There's a case to be made for the proposition that Wood's game was the most dominanting pitching performance ever. The Astros of that era had a pretty imposing lineup: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Mosies Alou -- and they never had a chance. No walks, one infield hit, 20 K's.
Only two men have struck out their age: Bob Feller, who had a 17 strikeout game at age 17, and Wood, aged 20 for his masterpiece.
But Wood could not stay healthy. Jim Riggleman, then the Cubs manager, used him hard, and in spring training the next year Wood blew out his elbow.
It's an unanswerable question: Could Wood have been kept healthy with more cautious use early? My guess is not; he was never all that consistent with his delivery, and Feller to the contrary, history suggests that teenagers who throw as hard as Wood get hurt.
All told, Wood went on the disabled list 16 times in 14 seasons, some of them long stints.
And the high hopes and expectations for his career went unfulfilled. He made it through only two fulls easons in a rotation and gave up trying to be a starting pitcher after 2006.
He wound up with an 86-75 record and 1,583 strikeouts in 1,380 innings.