In Which One is Done

Yesterday was round one of the BP Crosstown Classic. The winner of the series gets the BP Crosstown Cup. The winner of the BP Crosstown Cup gets first shot at an exciting BP Crosstown coupons that can earn people as much as 25c off a gallon of gas. The redeemers of the BP Crosstown coupons would probably rather chew glass than be caught dead in public with them.

Seriously, could there be a more embarrassing sponsorship for a professional sporting event?

According to my sources players have been advised that, if they can’t say something nice about the Cup they should say nothing at all.

The silence is deafening.

Anyway, yesterday Kerry Wood decided to pull the plug on his career. Outside of Chicago this was only news in the sense that baseball fans thought he’d done so a couple of years ago. They can be forgiven for being technically correct.

Carrie Muskat was at the game and wrote about how gosh golly wunnerful it was to honor Kid K on such a gosh golly wunnerful day.

Kid K has retired.

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.

“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.

“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.”

Viciedo had no chance? Not to be blunt, but Viciedo swung at air. His first swing was shoulder high. Simply put, a little robin must have told him to let Kid K go in peace. Viciedo is a free swinger, not an idiot. He would never have swung at those pitches normally.

Okay, so Kid K is gone and ready to begin his career as Ron Santo II in the radio booth. Cnb$ fans must be thrilled.

Meanwhile, there was a hell of a game between the lines. Scott Merkin was kind enough to tell us about all of that.

The White Sox were a tired team entering Friday’s Interleague Play opener at Wrigley Field.

Playing two games in Anaheim and then flying across the country to take part in an afternoon affair in Chicago the next day will have that effect on a group of players.

But there’s something about the Cubs-White Sox rivalry that re-energizes anyone involved. If not for the Cubs as an opponent on Friday, the White Sox might not have emerged with a 3-2 victory and then retreated back to their respective homes to get some much-needed sleep.

“It was a fun game, it really was,” said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, who hit the go-ahead homer in the eighth inning off Jeff Samardzija. “It was a lot of energy today.

“We needed it. We were tired from coming off the plane and doing all that. It was kind of nice to have that energy. Without that energy, I don’t know how well we would have done today. We were pretty worn out.”

On top of sleep deprivation, the White Sox (19-21) also lost top hitter and captain Paul Konerko when he was hit in the left side of the face by a Samardzija pitch in the third inning. Konerko suffered a small laceration over his left eye and some ensuing swelling. He was going through further tests and would be re-evaluated after those results came back, so nothing official would be known until Saturday.

Samardzija was the first hitter in the bottom of the third, but White Sox manager Robin Ventura and White Sox starting pitcher Philip Humber elected not to retaliate. That moment appeared to come in the fourth, when Humber threw behind Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair and missed him. Both benches were warned by home-plate umpire Tim Timmons, but Ventura and Humber claimed after the victory that the pitch to LaHair simply was one that got away.

“If we wanted to do anything, we would have hit [Samardzija],” Ventura said. “It’s just baseball. You just keep going.”

One pitch that got away from Samardzija (4-2), or at least one he would like to have back, came against Beckham. The count stood at 2-2 with one out in the eighth, when Beckham connected with a splitter for his third home run.

Beckham made solid contact, with the wind blowing out to left providing an assist. That long ball came after Samardzija singled off reliever Matt Thornton (2-3) in the seventh to even the score at 2.

“I’m glad it came when it did,” Beckham said. “It was just good to help the team win. That’s what is important to me.”

“We’re fortunate that Gordon came through at the end and Phil kept us in the game and pitched well,” said Adam Dunn, who started Friday’s game in left field but finished at first base after Konerko’s departure. “It was a fun game to be a part of.”

Both teams scored in the first inning, with Konerko launching a two-run homer that scored Beckham ahead of him. Konerko’s blast was his 55th in Interleague Play, leaving him only behind Jim Thome’s 59 for the all-time lead, as well as representing the 404th of his career and 397th as part of the White Sox.

David DeJesus’ double, Tony Campana’s bunt single and Starlin Castro’s long flyout to right-center scored the Cubs’ first run in the opening frame off Humber. Castro’s blast appeared to be knocked down by the wind blowing out to left.

Humber put together his second straight quality start, giving up just two runs on five hits over 6 1/3 innings. He fanned three and walked two, while needing only 66 pitches.

“As a starting pitcher, that’s the goal,” Humber said. “Come in here and give the team a chance to win. I did that today.”

Kerry Wood also pitched in his last game for the Cubs (15-24), striking out Dayan Viciedo on three pitches with one out and one on in the eighth, before exiting to a thunderous ovation and being replaced by James Russell. Wood, who drew applause from the White Sox as he departed, announced his retirement after the game.

“I love Kerry Wood. He had a tremendous career,” White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “I wish he wouldn’t have had the injuries he had, because he would have been one of the best ever. Classy guy, a guy I got to know over the last few years, playing against him, being around him. He was good for the game.”

“That was one of those things where you wanted to win for [Wood],” said DeJesus. “He had an awesome career.”

Thornton, Nate Jones and Addison Reed were good for the White Sox in relief on Friday. Thornton stranded the go-ahead run at third in the seventh inning by retiring DeJesus and Campana on one pitch each, and Jones threw a scoreless eighth.

Reed pitched around a two-out double by Darwin Barney that Alex Rios lost in the sun by striking out pinch-hitter Reed Johnson. It was Reed’s fourth career save and probably his most exciting one.

“After he dropped it, I just focused on the next batter,” Reed said. “I was amped up about this one. It was a lot of fun out there, but I was ready for it.”

Did Samardzija throw at Paulie on purpose? I don’t think so but arguments contrariwise are compelling. Did Beckham tackle De Jesus on purpose? Hell yes. Did Sveum deserve to be tossed? You betcha.

Who knows what tonight will bring. Whatever it is I am guessing it will be appreciated more than BP Crosstown Coupons.


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