[Kerry Wood, pictured, shown rehabbing his blistered middle finger]
There’s one thing you can say for sure about the Cubs Friday squeaker (3-2) over the Cards, Saturday’s Tard attack (12-3) on Big Z (“z,” as in loZer), and the Astro’s series last week: Mr. Wood’s minor participation made little difference. After dealing with an unhealable blister on his middle finger for a month, The Boy Who Belongs in the Plastic Bubble announced Friday that he now suffers back spasms. This immediately drew an Our Year Is Over column from the Trib’s Rick Morrissey. In Morrissey’s mind, Wood’s “experience” as closer (now up to four month’s worth “ minus one for
Valtrex blister care) is what’s needed, not Jeff Samardzija’s projected two months by post-season. I don’t know, seeing a former Notre Dame QB stepping off the bag Friday to nail Albert Pujols heist-gone-horribly-wrong at 2B gives one pause “ the kid knows how to play big league ball. As The Daily Herald‘s Tim Sassone reports, Lou Piniella appears just fine with Samardzija. “Obviously, playing in front of 80,000 people at Notre Dame makes a big difference,” Piniella said. “He’s used to national TV and exposure, the Notre Dame program, the schedule they play in front of the fans they play before at home and on the road. It doesn’t faze him when he comes here. It’s one of the reasons, outside of the fact that he’s a success-oriented young man and at the same time he has good stuff to go along with it, that he’s been able to make this transition in Chicago so rapidly.”
Personally, I don’t have much faith in Samardzija’s long term Cubs prospects. With a “d,” “z,” and “j” in that kind of proximity in his name, the Fightin’ Irish tag, the mullet “ he’s a winter trade to the South Side. At any rate, here are Mr. Morrissey’s out-sized Hopes and Dreams, hung as they are on Kerry Wood’s round shoulders, worrying that Samardzija can’t handle what no Cub has handled since Teddy Roosevelt set out for Africa: October.
When it arrives, do you want a rookie who will have about two months of major league experience handling the closer role?
I know: Samardzija played college football in front of 80,000 people every Saturday in the fall. I’ve said the same thing. The kid understands pressure.
But experience matters in the closer spot. It matters a lot. A 95-m.p.h. fastball can partly offset a lack of experience, but are these the shoulders you want 100 years of futility to be riding on?
The guy with 111/3 innings of big league experience?
Maybe you say yes to that question. Maybe Cubs general manager Jim Hendry answers in the affirmative. If he does, I hope it’s for the right reason”that he believes the kid is ready for the role”and not for the wrong reasons”that he’s enamored with the Samardzija-Notre Dame angle or the fact he made a bold move in using a fifth-round pick to woo the pitcher away from the NFL.
The Cubs believe he can be a closer.
“He pitched in the ninth and 10th inning [Friday],” Piniella said. “I think that tells you something. It tells me that I like him and that I have confidence in him.”
Before a blister reared its ugly head, Wood had converted 20 of his previous 21 save opportunities. Perhaps that gives Piniella confidence too.
The shame will be if Hendry and Piniella are forced to make Samardzija their closer. It will mean Wood is hurt again, and if you have even an ounce of compassion, you’ll feel bad for him. When he was chosen for the All-Star Game, it was validation that he was back from the nightmare of the previous four years, when his second home was a one-room walk-up on the disabled list.
To date, the most ridiculous injury Wood has suffered occurred when he said he slipped in a hot tub last year and hurt his chest/rib area. It was the sort of incident that might make a man take stock of his life, as well as of his body soaking choices.
But what has happened to Wood since just before the All-Star Game has been downright cruel, even by the standards of a pitcher who has a medical file as thick as a Harry Potter novel. He developed a blister on his right index finger. This is Wood, so of course it was the Blister That Wouldn’t Go Away.
Then it finally did, after about a month. There was relief when the reliever finally saw action Tuesday against Houston.
But then, just in case Wood wasn’t frustrated enough, he was held out of Friday’s game after complaining of back pain. You almost could see the eyes of the Cubs’ brass rolling.
If Wood’s history has its way, the feel-good story of the year is going to be in traction by September.