In his fifth start, Wood had the most memorable performance of his career. Against the Houston Astros, who were a terrific offensive team in 1998, the 20-year-old rookie allowed just one hit and struck out 20 batters. This game received national attention. The next game that Wood pitched was against the expansion D-backs, and he struck out 13, setting a Major League record for most strikeouts in two games.
Wood earned the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1998, and many believed if Wood continued his dominance and didn't have many injuries, he would have a long Hall of Fame-worthy career. However, like many rookie phenoms, Wood's career was ultimately derailed by injuries.
When healthy, Wood was one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball history, and he helped lead Chicago to the playoffs four times. This endeared him to Cubs fans. However, his inability to stay off the disabled list represented frustration for those same fans.
Wood experienced all of the usual arm injuries, including an elbow problem that required Tommy John surgery and a partially torn rotator cuff. In hopes of preventing more trips to the disabled list, Wood became a reliever. Although he excelled in this role, it didn't stop Wood from further injury problems.
Wood left Chicago for two seasons to pitch for the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees. Accepting less money, Wood returned to the Cubs in 2011.
This season, Wood hoped to pitch for his beloved Cubs, but he was plagued with various physical ailments, none of them serious enough to put him back on the disabled list. He couldn't bounce back to pitch multiple times per week. On the brink of being released by the Cubs, a team going nowhere but wanting a youth movement, Wood decided to retire.
On Friday, in front of a packed Wrigley Field, Wood faced his last Major League hitter. On three pitches, Wood struck out Dayan Viciedo of the Chicago White Sox for his final out. His teammates gathered on the mound to congratulate him. As a speechless Wood walked slowly off the field, he received a boisterous standing ovation from the sellout crowd. His young son, Justin, ran to meet him.
Wood was undoubtedly a rare talent, but when I look back on his career, I must ask, "What might it have been without his injuries?"