He tied Roger Clemens’ nine-inning mark by striking out 20 batters on May 6, 1998 for the Chicago Cubs against Houston.
With that accomplishment, Wood earned the nickname “Kid K” and was off to a roaring start to his big league career.
“After the first inning I knew I had three, but I lost track after that,” Wood said.
He finished that season with a 13-6 record and 3.40 ERA, along with a whopping 233 strikeouts in 166 2/3 innings, and was named Rookie of the Year.
But injuries took a toll on Wood, starting with missing the entire 1999 season after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow.
Despite the injuries, the 20-strikeout performance and the way he battled back from injuries throughout his career endeared him to Cubs fans, and earned him respect around the major leagues.
Last Friday, after a frustrating start to the season thanks to a troublesome shoulder, Wood announced that he would retire after one last hurrah. His frustration had boiled over on May 8, when, after a bad outing, he threw his cap and glove into the seats at Wrigley Field on his way back to the dugout after getting pulled.
“I definitely didn’t want to go out the last time throwing my glove into the seats,” Wood said.
Instead, Wood got the perfect sendoff. He entered the game against the cross-town rival White Sox in the top of the eighth inning, in relief of starter Jeff Samardzija, with one out and one on base.
Wood struck out Dayan Viciedo swinging. Then he was taken out of the game to a standing ovation. Wood tipped his cap and grabbed his son Justin who had come running out of the dugout to hug him.
“I can’t give enough credit to the fans,” Wood said. “Just a tremendous feeling. Actually I’m kind of glad (bench coach Jamie Quirk) came out and took me out of the game because I had no idea (how) I was going to get the next guy out.”
If not for the injuries, which also included a left oblique strain in 2000; right shoulder tendinitis in 2001; right triceps strain in 2004; season-ending shoulder surgery in 2005 and a few blisters, Wood might have been one of baseball’s greatest pitchers.
He ranks second all-time in strikeouts per nine innings pitched at 10.31 to Randy Johnson, who had 10.6. Wood won two playoff games in 2003 against Atlanta and hit a home run in a Game 7 loss to Florida in the 2003 NLCS. He was named to the NL All-Star team in 2003 and 2008.
With his shoulder problems too much to overcome, Wood was moved to the bullpen in 2007. He had 34 of his career 63 saves in 2008. He pitched for the Cleveland Indians in 2009 and part of 2010 before a trade to the New York Yankees. Wood returned to the Cubs in 2011. This season, Wood was 0-2 with an 8.31 ERA. He allowed eight hits and 11 walks with six strikeouts in 8.2 innings.
For his career, Wood was 86-75 with a 3.67 ERA. He had 1,582 strikeouts in 1,380 innings pitched. In all, Wood, 34, pitched more than 13 years in the majors. But on Friday, he knew the writing was on the wall.
“It’s just time,” Wood said after the game. “We saw how things were going this year and just not being able to recover and bounce back and do my job, essentially.
“You know, do what I’m supposed to do, day in and day out. Just the grind of getting ready every day. To go through it, hours to get ready for 15 pitches and go out there and not be successful. You know it was just time, time to give someone else a chance.”
Copyright © 2012 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.