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Cubs Mon May 21 2012

Kerry Wood's Graceful Retirement

Cubs_200.pngPlayers rarely retire at the right time. Some leave early and starve us of the opportunity to witness their continued greatness (Barry Sanders), while some players continue playing long past their effectiveness (Brett Favre) or return after an iconic moment (Michael Jordan).

Kerry Wood nailed it perfectly.

Prior to Friday's game, Wood announced he'd be retiring after his next appearance, which was expected to be on Friday or Saturday. With one out and a man on in the eighth inning, starter Jeff Samardzija was lifted for a reliever. Wood shook the hand of bullpen coach Lester Strode, and made his way to the mound at Wrigley one final time.

His stuff was never a question. After blowing a 95 mph heater through the strike zone against Dayan Viciedo, Wood threw a pair of knee buckling curveballs to retire the final hitter of his career. A fitting finish for the man dubbed 'Kid K' after striking out 20 Houston Astros in just his fifth big league start.

His fastball, cutter, curveball, and slider all had bite when he pitched this season, but his command and control escaped him, which is typically the last component to come back after an injury. He fought soreness throughout the spring, and following a DL stint a few weeks ago, he was still unable to throw on back-to-back days and couldn't throw strikes enough to be trusted in high leverage situations. His frustration mounted, and he knew the time had come.

His return to the team in 2012 was questioned long before he took the mound. With his pal, Jim Hendry out of the picture, he wasn't sure he would be welcomed back by Theo Epstein and the new front office. And despite a relationship that seemed forced initially (mainly by Tom Ricketts), each knew that one last year at Wrigley could help a ballclub packed with youngsters.

His 15-year career is filled with incredible accomplishments. The aforementioned 20K game (Eric Gregg aided or not), clinching the Cubs only postseason series victory since 1908 with eight innings of one-run ball against the Braves in 2003, and narrowly missing the World Series in his few months with the Yankees.

You get the feeling, however, that it could've been so much more. He missed his entire sophomore season due to injuries which turned out to plague him throughout his time in the majors. He gave up seven runs against the Marlins in Game 7 of the NLCS in 2003, and eventually landed in the bullpen to salvage what was left of his Dusty Baker'd arm.

Even though Wood was gone for two years, it never felt like he had left Chicago. You always knew he'd return home for afternoon games on the North Side. Once a Cub, always a Cub.

After striking out Viciedo, bench coach Jamie Quirk came to the mound to remove Wood for the final time. A picturesque afternoon at Wrigley it was. The sun shining on the face of the latest Cubs icon as he walked off to a standing ovation, greeted by a hug from his son, Justin shortly before stepping down to the dugout.

The fans demanded, as they had many times before, for a curtain call. One final goodbye. Wood jumped out after a nudge from Quirk and touched his heart while waiving his cap, thanking the masses without a word.

A perfect farewell, indeed.

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spudart / May 22, 2012 9:03 PM

Way to go Woodie!

Brett's fan club Prez / May 24, 2012 12:18 PM

"while some players continue playing long past their effectiveness (Brett Favre)"

Brett Favre retired in 2010 after leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game a year earlier.

"Long past their effectiveness"? Do you even watch football? :-)

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