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updated: 5/19/2012 12:30 AM

It was some kind of ride with Kerry Wood

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  • Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood pitched to one batter Friday, striking out Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox before leaving the mound to a standing ovation at Wrigley Field. Wood has decided to retire.

      Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood pitched to one batter Friday, striking out Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox before leaving the mound to a standing ovation at Wrigley Field. Wood has decided to retire.
    Associated Press

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It was always something with and around Kerry Wood.

It was always something exciting, something controversial, something bittersweet, something not quite like anything else you've seen with anybody else.

That's the way it was Friday at Wrigley Field, too.

Word began to spread before 9 in the morning that something was up, that Wood might call it quits, perhaps on the spot.

That wasn't quite the case. The Cubs were hoping to get Wood into one last game so he could soak up the applause from the Wrigley Field faithful who've worshipped him since 1998. They wanted him to ride off into the sunset on his own terms.

That came to pass perfectly.

With one out in the eighth inning and the White Sox' Adam Dunn on first base, acting manager Jamie Quirk (skipper Dale Sveum had been kicked out earlier), came out to get starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija.

In came Wood to a crescendo of cheers from the 34,937 fans -- fans of the Cubs and White Sox -- to face Dayan Viciedo.

It was 1, 2, 3 strikes and out as Wood got Viciedo swinging on a curveball. Out came Quirk again, and out went Wood to more cheers as his son, Justin, ran out of the third-base dugout to give his dad a hug.

Wood said the feeling was like that of 1998.

"Exactly the same," he said. "I told (pitcher James) Russell before I went in, I said, 'I feel like I'm going in to pitch my first inning.' So the adrenaline's the same. The nerves were the same. I just can't give enough credit to the fans. Just a tremendous feeling."

So yes, it was something again Friday with Kerry Wood, who will join his family Saturday at Wrigley Field and meet the media again, perhaps to talk about his future after baseball.

It's not been a good year for the onetime fireballing phenom out of Texas. A bum shoulder that bothered him since spring training rendered him ineffective in the early going of the regular season, so much so he wasn't an option for Sveum on many days.

But that's not the Kerry Wood that Cubs fans will remember.

They'll remember the 100-mph fastball and that crazy slurve pitch that alternately blew away and baffled the Houston Astros on May 6, 1998, when he struck out 20 in perhaps the most dominant pitching performance in big-league history.

Wood didn't walk anybody that day, and the only hit came on an infield single by Ricky Gutierrez. A couple years later, Gutierrez joined the Cubs. One day in spring training, the clubhouse TV played highlights of Wood's 20-strikeout game.

Gutierrez stopped, looked at the screen and said in mock indignation, "I got a hit off that sorry (so-and-so)."

After the 20-strikeout game, which Wood called "good and bad" for him, it was one thing after another. In the spring of 1999 during a spring game in Tempe, Wood uncorked a warm-up toss to the backstop. Little did we know then, and Wood played it cool that day in the clubhouse as he talked with us, that he had just blown out his elbow.

Tommy John surgery cost him the 1999 season. After that, it was one series of ailments and injuries: inner-ear and vertigo problems, household accidents, various illnesses and, ultimately, a shoulder injury in 2005 that Wood gutted out and rehabbed without surgery.

Wood and the Cubs came oh-so-close in 2003, 2007 and 2008. In '03, Wood pitched the Cubs to their first postseason series win since 1908 as the Cubs beat the Braves in the division series. He then joined teammates at Atlanta's Turner Field and sprayed the many Cubs fans there with champagne.

Wood and the Cubs couldn't close the postseason deal, as they fell in Game 7 of the championship series to the Marlins.

Wood left after 2008, going to the Indians and later to the Yankees. But it was "something" again as he returned to Chicago after meeting with then-general manager Jim Hendry at the funeral of Cubs great Ron Santo. Wood's return was in doubt again last winter, but a last-ditch signing at the Cubs convention brought him back for what he thought would be one more season.

But the shoulder acted up again in spring training, with Wood being shut down for a time. He went on the DL in late April, but it was clear the pop wasn't there when he came back. The frustration boiled over May 8, when Wood threw his glove and cap into the stands after a rough outing against the Braves.

Sveum revealed he and Wood talked twice recently about the possibility of retirement, with Wood approaching him again Thursday.

"It's just time," Wood said. "It was time. Just the grind of getting ready every day, to go through it, just to get ready for 15 pitches and go out there and not be successful. It was just time. It was time."

I was privileged to cover Wood's first game, in 1998 at Montreal, and his last. Along the way, we maintained a friendly relationship, something not easy to do these days between players and media.

I witnessed the highs and lows, the happiness and the hurt. And all I can say is that it was really something.

"I love the game of baseball," Wood said. "I had fun. I had a blast. I wouldn't trade anything in."

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