34 Days to Opening Day and when you think of the number 34 in Chicago sports lore, it’s not hard to come up with the one name synonymous with the number.
Of course, Walter Payton. But, it’s not 34 days to kickoff. It’s 34 days to Opening Day. Honestly, from a Cubs perspective, this is a no-brainer as well. Two words.
Ok, so maybe “K” isn’t a word, but you get the drift. Until late in the 20th century the best player to don 34 in a Cub uniform was most likely Steve Trout. Not a bad lefty and certainly a unique guy. He was a solid number two starter for the 1984 Cubs – and the irony of his ties to Dizzy Trout and the last time the Cubs played in a World Series makes the story pretty good. But, then came 1998.
There are a few moments in Cub history where all of us know where we were and what we were doing when they occurred. The clincher in 1984. The Game Five debacle in 1984. Will Clark’s grand slam off Greg Maddux in 1989. 2003…um, still can’t bring that up without throwing up in my mouth just a little bit. And, of course, May 6, 1998.
Kerry Wood, in his 5th career start, struck out 20 Houston Astros on a gloomy, mid-week day at Wrigley Field. Those were not today’s Astros. These were the “Killer B’s” – Hall-of-Famers littered within. Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Derek Bell and the guys from Houston had the best offense in the majors that year. But, not on May 6.
We all know what went on to happen in Wood’s career. Years missed at a time due to arm problems. Some weird time seeing him in a Yankee uniform near the end. But, he finished his career the way he should. In a Cub uniform, with a strike out at Wrigley Field, in front of an adoring crowd that ushered him into retirement with maybe the best standing ovation I have ever seen.
It’s strange to note that he only won 86 games over the course of his entire career. He did spend some time as a closer, but that’s not as high as you’d think. For all of the memories we have of Kid K on the mound, it was what he did with his bat that helped him secure his place in Cub fan’s hearts forever. He may have had a power arm, but sometimes I think if he was a position player he would’ve hit 25 home runs a year.
For all the home runs Sammy Sosa hit in that crazy month of June in 1998, the most memorable one for me was Wood’s blast to center field at Wrigley against the Phillies. It was like, “Oh my goodness, he can hit, TOO?!” He may have lost the biggest game any of us have ever seen the Cubs play in – Game Seven in 2003 – but it wasn’t because he didn’t hold up his end in the batter’s box.
Did anyone else almost hit their head on the ceiling when Wood cranked out a three-run tater to tie the game in Game SEVEN? What pitcher does that? Kerry Wood, that’s who.
Don’t forget that earlier in that postseason, during the NLDS against the Braves, it had been so long since the Cubs just won a playoff GAME that his win in Game One in Atlanta made us all believe that 2003 could actually be “The Year”. He pitched well that night – be also had the biggest hit in the game: a sixth-inning double that put the Cubs ahead to stay.
Only one pitcher has won a deciding game of a postseason series on the road in Cubs history. Kerry Wood. Only one pitcher has ever struck out 33 batters over the course of two starts. Kerry Wood. And, in my opinion, only one Cub should ever wear the number 34.