CHICAGO — Kerry Wood arrived in the majors 14 years ago, a fresh-faced kid with No. 34 on his back, slinging fastballs at 100 mph, delivering breaking pitches that were often unhittable and striking out 20 batters in just his fifth start.
On Friday, he left the game after one final, emotional appearance with the Chicago Cubs.
Fittingly, “Kid K” struck out the last batter he’ll ever face and retired at the age of 34, ending a career that was eye-popping at times but hampered by injuries.
“I had a blast. I wouldn’t trade it in. I learned from the injuries, I learned about my body and what it takes to compete and go out and play every day,” Wood said after his final game, a 3-2 loss to the White Sox.
“Mentally and physically we get to this point,” Wood said. “Every player gets to this point where we don’t all get to choose when, we don’t all get to have a say in it. But I was fortunate enough to play this game a long time in a great city in front of the best fans in baseball. … It was time.”
Wood struck out Dayan Viciedo on three pitches, the last one a swing and a miss, in the eighth inning before he was replaced by bench coach Jamie Quirk — manager Dale Sveum had been ejected earlier. His teammates joined Wood on the mound to congratulate him and he left to a rousing ovation. Even White Sox slugger Adam Dunn doffed his batting helmet and clapped for Wood as he stood at first base.
Wood hugged his son as he reached the dugout, then lifted the boy into his arms. Moments later, he came out for a curtain call and waved his cap to the fans.
“I felt like I was getting ready to pitch my first inning. The adrenaline was the same, the nerves were the same. I can’t give enough credit to the fans, just a tremendous feeling,” Wood said.
Wood went on the disabled list this season with shoulder fatigue — he was on the DL more than a dozen times during his career — and had struggled all year. His frustrations were evident when, after a bad outing against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field, he tossed his cap and glove into the stands.
“My body wasn’t bouncing back this year. I felt like I was putting guys in the ‘pen in situations they didn’t need to be in. I definitely didn’t want to go out with my last inning being me throwing my glove in the seats,” Wood said. “I wanted to put up a zero or at least get one guy out.”
One of his best friends, starter Ryan Dempster, said he would really miss Wood’s presence in the clubhouse
“It will be tough not seeing him out there pitching,” Dempster said as Wood was shagging fly balls with his son before the game. “He’s been a great friend and a great teammate and a great Chicago Cub.”
Coming into the year, Wood was 86-73 with a 3.64 ERA and 63 saves. He left the Cubs as a free agent in December 2008, signing with the Cleveland Indians for two years and $20.5 million. He was traded to the Yankees in July 2010, becoming Mariano Rivera’s setup man, but he remained loyal to Chicago.
“Most every day he went out there, especially before he had the arm surgery, he had no-hit stuff,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who was Wood’s teammate from 2000-02 with the Cubs and then managed him in New York. “Loved playing with him. He loved to play the game. He really did.”
Wood returned to the Cubs in 2011, when he went 3-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 55 relief appearances before shutting it down because of a tear in his left knee that required arthroscopic surgery. In January, Wood agreed to play for the Cubs again for $3 million — double his 2011 pay — with a $3 million club option for 2013.