In Which We’re Through With Two

If you’re like me, and there are those deviants among us who harbor such aspirations, then you woke up this morning and emitted a prodigious cloud of noxious fumes, much to the joy of your youngest feline, then grabbed something heavily caffeinated, yet non-alcoholic (you’re not that desperate .... yet), then flipped on the boob tube to see who was saying what about yesterday’s second round of the BP Crosstown Classic.

After 20 minutes of slogging through, THE MAN - THE MYTH - THE LEGEND .... (really Cubs fans? Kerry “Throwing Towel” Wood is who floats your boat?) - someone mentioned that the Sox won again.

Then they showed the nice tribute to NATO that preceded the game.

Then it was back to Mr. Hot Tub for a recap on how he felt now that he was going to be able to spend more time with his family.

He was on the DL 16 times. He spent more time with his family than any pro ball player known to man. He and his wife have hosted numerous, in season, charity events due to the fact that he was unencumbered by a job.

Oh well, it’s what the people want. Paul Sullivan spent yesterday with the K-Woo Slurpee Machine and shares his joy of being allowed to get so close to a man who will, one day soon, be beatified.

Having covered Kerry Wood’s first and last pitches in the majors and chronicled his best and worst moments — in simulated games, Cactus League games and playoffs games, through elbow, shoulder, knee, back, blister and hot tub injuries — I’m eager to experience the post-Wood Cubs.

Befitting a legend, Wood left a million stories in his wake. Here are a few I’ll always remember:

The start

The Cubs had told Wood in spring training of 1998 he would start the season in Triple-A even though he had struck out 329 batters in 2731/3 innings in the minors. In Wood’s first spring training outing, he pitched two perfect innings, striking out John Jaha and not allowing any balls out of the infield.

“I wasn’t in awe,” he said. “I was nervous, but I’d have been nervous in Little League on the first day. I had some first-day jitters, but I’m glad I didn’t choke.”

Said catcher Scott Servais: “After he threw his first fastball to Jaha, he turned around and said, ‘It’s too early for that stuff. I said, ‘Get used to it.’”

The call

Ron Santo was recovering from surgery during the 2003 playoffs, and called the Cubs’ clubhouse after their division series-clinching victory over the Braves. Wood was standing in the hallway talking to Santo during the celebration inside.

“Before I popped champagne, I spent 15 minutes on the phone with him talking,” he said. “He was pretty emotional and we thought at that time, ‘This is for you. You’ve been waiting a long time.’ It was a special moment for us and that one-on-one conversation after it all happened, to catch him in that emotional state, I won’t forget that.”

The game

Wood tied Roger Clemens’ 20-strikeout record in his fifth start on May 6, 1998, striking out eight of the last nine hitters and hitting 100 mph on the radar guns twice. He got Derek Bell swinging to end the game and make himself a legend.

“I had no idea what I had going into the last three innings,” he said. “After the first inning I knew I had three, but I lost track after that. I wasn’t real worried about getting strikeouts. I knew it was getting up there. I was just glad we were able to get a win out of it.”

Mark Grace compared Wood with another young phenom.

“Tiger Woods, Kerry Wood,” he said. “Hello, world.”

The collision

One of the most anticipated Wrigley Field games in years was Wood’s 2003 matchup against the Yankees’ Clemens, who was going for his 300th career victory.

But the buzz was muted when Wood and first baseman Hee Seop Choi collided on a Jason Giambi popup, knocking Choi out for several minutes. An ambulance came onto the field through the right field doors and took Choi to Illinois Masonic hospital, where he was held overnight with a concussion.

“Once the incident happened, we were all in the dugout saying, ‘Let’s win it for (Choi),’” Wood said. “We pulled together and focused even more after that happened. We were determined to get a win.”

Wood outdueled Clemens, Eric Karros’ three-run homer in the seventh gave them a lead and the crowd chanted “Hee Seop Choi” over and over in the top of the ninth.

The DL

Wood famously has spent numerous stints on the disabled list, including this month with “shoulder fatigue.” He and Mark Prior made the simulated games synonymous with the Cubs.

His most puzzling injury may have been the slow-healing blister on his index finger in 2008, which frustrated manager Lou Piniella to no end.

“You know, when I played, pitchers had blisters and they put that Tuff Skin on there,” Piniella said. “They seemed to function pretty well.”

Wood returned after a month, then became unavailable because of a bad back. He eventually returned to help the Cubs to 97 victories and the playoffs, where the Dodgers swept them.

The suspension

Wood was suspended for five games early in 2004 for “inciting” fans to throw garbage on the field during a rant against plate umpire Eric Cooper, whom Wood charged after the inning when he got ejected for arguing being squeezed on a couple of walks.

“I didn’t touch him, didn’t bump him, didn’t spit on him, didn’t head-butt him,” Wood argued. “Didn’t do anything like that. … Guys have been arguing for years. They’re not going to make an example out of me because I argued.”

Dusty Baker was worried it would be a bad collision.

“It made me nervous because Woody had a full head of steam,” Baker said, recalling Antonio Alfonseca’s belly bump of umpire Justin Klemm in ‘03. Wood wasn’t worried he would bump Cooper.

“I don’t have (Alfonseca’s) boiler yet.”

The feud

The meltdown at the end of the disappointing 2004 season was filled with controversy, which Baker and many players blamed on the media, particularly broadcasters Chip Caray and Steve Stone.

Wood was upset a radio station fingered him as the culprit who smashed Sammy Sosa’s boom box, a charge he denied. Stone left after the season, but the following spring told WSCR-AM that Wood should “go sell cars” if he refused to change his mechanics.

“That speaks more about what happened last year,” Wood said. “That’s a sure sign of where (the controversies) started. I came to spring training, doing my job, and all of a sudden that stuff starts coming up? I choose not to comment on it. I choose not to say anything back. It’s a waste of time, a waste of breath and a waste of ink.”

Wood asked the “experts” that didn’t like his mechanics to “write me letters. Teach me how to pitch.”

The loss

Wood mentioned his Game 7 home run in the 2003 playoffs as the highlight of his career, and most agree it set off the most noise ever heard it at Wrigley Field. But Wood failed to get out of the sixth inning, turning a 5-3 lead into a 6-5 deficit, and the Cubs were cooked.

Afterward, he blamed himself.

“I choked,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. I choked.”

Wood then ended the press conference at his locker and walked away.

The tub

Piniella’s raw honesty didn’t fit well with the Cubs’ preference for secrecy regarding injuries, especially the pitchers.

On the opening day of Piniella’s first spring training in 2007, he surprised reporters when he announced Wood sustained a rib injury falling “in his hot spa.” Piniella next mistake was asking the media not to make “a big deal out of it.”

Wood was eventually able to laugh about it.

“It’s about that time of year, isn’t it?” he said the next day. “Just typical. I was getting out of the hot tub at the house and took a little spill.”

The end

After covering Wood for 10 of his 15 seasons, my last question to him occurred the night of May 8, after he threw his glove and hat into the stands during a loss to the Braves. Actually, the question never really was posed.

The words “throwing the glove” led to the response: “Irrelevant, dude. Why the (bleep) would you even bring that up?”

Wood then stalked off.

An hour after Wood’s farewell press conference Saturday, we talked near his locker about the incident, shook hands and I wished him luck in his next chapter.

Another perfect ending.

Okay. Are we done now? Is that enough? Can we stop talking about a guy who choked in the biggest game of his career and wasn’t good enough to pitch in Cleveland?

Moving on.

You might not know it but there was a baseball game in Chicago yesterday as well. As Steve Rosenbloom noted, the Cubs decided to hug tradition and load their line-up with right handed hitting because that’s what you do against lefties. The problem with that is the fact that righties are hitting .269 against Danks while lefties average around .309.

Ooops.

Scott Merkin talks about how that brilliant move almost allowed Danks to have a no hitter.

In a perfect White Sox world, John Danks would pitch scoreless baseball over six or seven innings every time out and Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo would be in the middle of their lineup slugging against opposing pitchers.

They had to settle for three of those four options on Saturday night at Wrigley Field, as the White Sox cruised to a 7-4 victory over the Cubs before 40,228 on a beautiful night for baseball. The final score was a bit deceiving after Alfonso Soriano and Joe Mather lofted a pair of two-run home runs off Zach Stewart in the ninth.

Prior to that outburst, the White Sox (20-21) were in complete control during their third straight victory. Part of the credit for this easy victory goes to the southpaw Danks (3-4), who battled out of a season-long funk to shut down a Cubs lineup featuring eight right-handed hitters.

The Cubs (15-25) actually didn’t have a baserunner until one out in the fifth, when Soriano ripped a double down the left-field line.

“He went through us pretty easy, obviously,” said Cubs manager Dale Sveum of Danks, who threw just 83 pitches over 6 1/3 scoreless innings before White Sox manager Robin Ventura pulled him when he felt he was getting fatigued. “We’ve been making it pretty easy on pitchers who have been coming in struggling. We’re making them look pretty good. We’re making quick outs and not getting good pitches to drive.”

“I felt good, but there have been times this year where I felt good and then I’d lose some concentration maybe and whatever the case may be, things start to happen quickly,” Danks said. “So it was focus, just stay on the attack and fortunately it worked out.”

Danks carried a 6.46 ERA into this start and was coming off of a Monday effort against the Tigers in which he allowed five runs on nine hits in three-plus innings. It was just the fourth quality start this season for Danks, who struck out four and walked one. Over his previous three starts, covering 17 innings, Danks fanned two and walked seven.

Saturday’s effort lowered Danks’ ERA to 0.93 in his three career starts at Wrigley, which have resulted in two victories.

“This is a fun game. This is an exciting game. There’s a lot of energy in the ballpark,” Danks said. “This is a game I enjoy throwing in, for sure. I don’t know how good or bad my numbers are here. But for sure, this is definitely a game I enjoy throwing in.”

“When he gets strike one and gets going with his fastball and locating it, all his breaking stuff is better,” Ventura said. “When he has command like that, he’s tough to hit.”

Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster (0-2) came into the game with a minuscule ERA of 1.74 but did not have a victory. He departed Saturday’s game still winless and with an ERA checking in at 2.28 after allowing four runs on seven hits in six innings.

Two home runs and the wind blowing out to left did in Dempster on this evening. He allowed a single run in the first inning on Viciedo’s one-out, two-strike single to center and then got caught by Viciedo again in the third for his seventh homer of the season. Viciedo’s drive was struck well but looked like a deep fly ball that eventually carried into the basket in left-center, giving him 11 hits in his last 23 at-bats with four homers and 11 RBIs.

A.J. Pierzynski followed with a line shot to left-center for the club’s second back-to-back homers this year. Pierzynski is 12-for-23 over his last five games, adding a double to his sixth home run, and continues to thrive at Wrigley.

“Here or at our place, the excitement, energy and atmosphere is so fun. This series is awesome,” said Pierzynski, who is a career .300 hitter at Wrigley. “I love playing here. It’s one of my favorite places to play.

“You wish you could duplicate this every game of the season. It’s a special series and a special place once you get on the field.”

Dunn added a prodigious clout off left-handed reliever James Russell during a three-run eighth. It was Dunn’s 13th of 2012 and 42nd career homer against the Cubs, completing a night where he also reached base four times via walk.

After the victory was complete, Dunn pointed more to Viciedo’s night than his own work.

“Viciedo has been swinging the bat really well and kind of took some pressure off John by scoring early,” Dunn said. “He’s a pretty confident kid and he never gets down on himself and he knows what he’s capable of doing. When he’s swinging the bat like he’s swinging it now, it’s fun to watch.”

Jake Peavy gets the call Sunday in trying to complete the White Sox sweep, while also increasing their 17-6 dominance in the last 23 games against the Cubs. They have a 7-2 record in their last nine played at Wrigley and hold an all-time series edge of 47-39, not to mention improving to 156-111 in Interleague competition.

Konerko won’t be available again on Sunday. But the White Sox hope to have back in the lineup Tuesday against the Twins when they return to American League competition possibly with a .500 record.

Dempster seemed to have the right idea. Make Dunn try and steal a base. The one fastball he saw he put in the bleachers.

Also, a quick side note on Fox Sports. They do seem to stock the booth with imitation Captains Obvious, but their camera work is gorgeous. Every time they do a game it’s like a visual love letter to the city. So, do what we do, watch with the sound off.

The two teams play again today at 1:20 PM (local time). Assuming it’s a K-Woo free day I am looking forward to watching it.

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