Wood's role has changed 10 years after 20 Ks Print
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Wednesday, 30 April 2008 13:51
MLB Headline News

 CHICAGO (AP) -Kerry Wood remembers warming up before the game 10 years ago and struggling with his pitches and his control in the bullpen. Looked like it was going to be a long day for a 20-year-old rookie in his fifth major league start.
Instead, as the game progressed and with rain falling, Wood's stuff was never better. He was striking out Houston Astros in bunches and even though he wasn't keeping count, the fans at Wrigley Field were.
When he struck out Derek Bell on a 1-2 pitch to end the game, Wood had a performance to last a lifetime- 20 strikeouts to tie Roger Clemens' major league record for a nine-inning game.
Throwing fastballs at 100 mph and with his slider dipping around the Houston bats, Wood didn't walk a batter, hit one with a pitch and gave up an infield single to Ricky Gutierrez in the third on a ball Cubs third baseman Kevin Orie couldn't come up with. The result: one of the best games every pitched.
``I didn't know how many strikeouts I had. I knew I had already given up a hit in the third inning,'' Wood said Wednesday, recalling his gem. ``I was just trying to get my first complete game.''
The difference between the fresh-faced Wood of May 6, 1998, and the one who is now the Cubs' closer?
``A lot more innings on my arm, a lot more injuries,'' said Wood, whose career has been slowed by numerous arm problems and many trips to the disabled list.
But that rainy day a decade ago is one that will always stand out. Now he's waiting for his two children to get old enough to understand what he accomplished.
``I'll never forget it. It's a great moment in my life and my career,'' he said.
Sometimes when there is a replay of the game showing, someone will phone Wood and tell him it's on. And he'll watch. And, humbly, he says the one aspect that is very obvious to him is how large the strike zone was that day.
Wood struck out the side in the first, fifth, seventh and eighth innings, and fanned two each in the second, fourth and ninth, and one each in the third and the sixth.
``The strike zone blows my mind,'' he said. ``I'll flip it on and really the thing that sticks out (is) I got some pretty generous calls.''
Wood, who got a congratulatory phone call from Clemens, was inundated with interview requests for a long time after his historic performance. It became overwhelming at times.
But he never fooled himself into thinking he'd be able to duplicate that outing.
``You know there are going to be days when you feel that good and throw the ball well, but still those results aren't going to happen. I think I realized that early and really just tried to stay within myself, even with all the attention from that game on,'' he added.
His current Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who was managing Seattle at the time, remembers seeing highlights of Wood's masterpiece.
``It was like watching a younger version of Roger Clemens. That's what it reminded me of. Big, strong, right-handed kid throwing the heck out of the ball, throwing it right by people. That was the reminder I had,'' Piniella said.
``You thought that the sky was the limit, potential-wise, and it was. Unfortunately, he had some physical problems that curtailed that, and now, he's in a new role. He's doing a nice job.''
At the end of that 1998 season, Wood missed the final month with a strained elbow ligament, but returned to pitch in the playoffs when the Cubs lost to the Braves. His elbow gave out the next spring and he missed the entire 1999 season after Tommy John surgery.
He eventually made his way back with three double-figure victory seasons from 2001-03 and helped pitch the Cubs to the playoffs five years ago, where a meltdown in the NLCS cost them a trip to the World Series. But from 2005-07, he battled shoulder problems, even having arthroscopic surgery at one point.
When it looked like another surgery might be necessary last year after he started the season on the disabled list, Wood went out to throw in an attempt to pinpoint the pain in his shoulder. Miraculously it had disappeared. He rejoined the Cubs in the bullpen last August and this spring won the closer's role.
``The situations I've been in the last couple of years have prepared me for the job I have now, as far as the stress of it and the anxiety of it,'' Wood said.
When asked this spring if it felt like a decade since his rookie season, Wood responded: ``Seems like 30.''
But he's still pitching, despite all the setbacks and comebacks.
``Obviously it's important. It's my job and I take pride in doing it. But I feel like I've been in tougher situations than tying run on third and one out,'' he said.
``That's what I do. That's my comfort zone out there on the field and on the mound. That's why I play.''
 

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