05/19/12 2:26 PM ET
In final outing, Wood fans one, then retires
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Kerry Wood, who burst onto the scene in 1998 with the Cubs, pitching a 20-strikeout game in his fifth Major League start, threw three pitches on Friday for career strikeout No. 1,582, which was his last. He announced his retirement after the Cubs' 3-2 loss to the White Sox.
Wood was to formally announce his retirement and meet with the media at Wrigley on Saturday afternoon.
"It's time -- it was time," Wood said. "We saw how things were going this year, and not being able to recover and bounce back and do my job, essentially, and do what I was supposed to do day in and day out. The grind of getting ready every day and go through hours to get ready for 15 pitches and not be successful, it was just time. It's time to give somebody else a chance."
There was no pregame announcement about Wood's future. Instead, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said the right-hander was available out of the bullpen.
Kerry Wood calls it a career
"It's one of those things where you know," Sveum said. "It's the most difficult thing you ever have to deal with. Everybody has to do it. It's a time in your life where you make that decision."
Wood and his son, Justin, enjoyed the day. The two chased balls during batting practice, and even climbed into the center-field scoreboard prior to the Cubs' Interleague game against the White Sox. Wood took out the lineup card, and when he went to the bullpen, he hugged and high-fived his teammates. Then he took his seat.
Wood had talked to Sveum about retiring in the last couple weeks, but he made it clear on Thursday this was it.
"Yesterday, I knew it was a lot different than the first day he talked to me about it," Sveum said. "We talked for a long time about a lot of things. I don't think talking him out of it yesterday was right for me to do. ... There comes a time. It's unfortunate, because you'll never get it back. You'll miss the adrenaline."
Wood had plenty pumping through him when he took the mound in the eighth, replacing Jeff Samardzija and the Cubs trailing.
"I said, 'You better throw it at 80 percent, because you'll be throwing it out of your [backside]," Cubs reliever James Russell said.
Wood fired a 96-mph fastball at Dayan Viciedo, who fouled it off. Viciedo fouled off the next pitch, a curveball, and then swung and missed at a 78-mph curve. It's been a long time and 16 stints on the disabled list since Wood struck out Mark Grudzielanek, the first batter he faced in his Major League debut on April 12, 1998, in the first inning, but he felt the same rush.
"I told [Russell] before I went out, 'I feel like I'm getting ready to go pitch my first inning,'" Wood said. "The adrenaline was the same, the nerves were the same."
Viciedo had no chance. As Wood left the field, he was surprised at the top of the dugout steps by Justin, who gave him a hug. Wood tipped his cap to the fans, then hugged his teammates in the dugout. He made one more curtain call.
Wood, 34, wanted to leave on his own terms. He finishes with an 86-75 career record and a 3.67 ERA in 446 games, including 178 starts. A two-time All-Star, he ranks third with the Cubs in strikeouts behind Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins and Carlos Zambrano, and he's the only one to reach the postseason with the team four times (1998, 2003, '07 and '08). He was the fastest pitcher to reach 1,000 strikeouts in both games (134) and innings pitched (853).
How long have the Cubs had to prepare for this?
"Probably 24 hours, I guess," Sveum said. "How do you prepare for it? You don't prepare for anything like this."
It's been rough for the Cubs' bullpen, which has the worst record in the National League. Wood already had spent time on the disabled list this season with right shoulder fatigue.
"[My arm] wasn't bouncing back this year," Wood said. "I felt I was putting guys in the 'pen in situations that they didn't need to be put in, putting Dale in situations where his hands were tied using me. I didn't want to go out with my last inning being me throwing my glove in the seats. I wanted to put up a zero and at least get one guy out."
On May 8 against the Braves, he entered in the eighth with the game tied at 1, and walked two batters and gave up two hits, including a game-winning two-run single by Dan Uggla. As he left the field, Wood threw his glove and cap into the stands in frustration.
The emotions were different on Friday.
"These fans have seen me and started reading about me when I was 17 and got drafted," Wood said. "Half of my life to this point has been in this uniform. I've been blessed, and the fans have supported me through all the injuries."
Wood was the Cubs' No. 1 Draft pick in 1995 and was a starter until arm injuries forced him to switch to relief. He was the Cubs' closer in 2008, totaling 34 saves. He finishes with 1,582 strikeouts, including 20 on May 6, 1998, in his fifth big league start. In that game, Wood gave up one hit and went the distance in a 2-0 win over the Astros. The 20 strikeouts still stands as a National Leauge and rookie record.
"To come on the scene and set the expectations and the bar where he did and to play 15 years after that and to battle through some really tough times and things like that, it's pretty impressive what he's been able to do," teammate Ryan Dempster said. "It's going to be tough not seeing him pitching."
Wood has spent all but two years with the Cubs, pitching for the Indians in 2009 and then the Tribe and Yankees in '10. He returned to Chicago in '11 when he gave the Cubs a hometown discount, signing for $1.5 million. Last January, he signed a one-year, $3 million deal to stay in Chicago.
What will he do next?
"I've played baseball for 30 years and done it professionally for 19 seasons," Wood said. "It's the one thing I know how to do, and now it's over. We'll find something."
The aches and pains were just too much for him to overcome.
"He'll definitely be missed," Dempster said. "The city of Chicago and Cubs fans loved him and rightfully so. When they feel that way about somebody, it's for the right reasons. He was a great teammate, a great friend and a great human."
Not many players get to chose when to leave the game.
"I had fun, I had a blast," Wood said. "I wouldn't trade anything in."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.