10/09/2003 8:16 PM ET
Wood getting stronger in playoffs
Game 3 starter gaining confidence during postseason
Redman ready for challenge
MIAMI -- Ricky Gutierrez was sitting in the dugout at Pro Player Stadium on Thursday, reminiscing about one of the few bad pitches Kerry Wood ever threw.
Wood hung a curve to Gutierrez on May 6, 1998 -- "It was his worst pitch of the game," Gutierrez says now -- and the then-Houston shortstop singled to left. It was the only hit off Wood, who struck out 20 that day to tie a Major League record.
"I always said when he struck us out 20 times that he'll be unbelievable," Gutierrez said. "He's no fluke."
Wood is proving that this postseason. The right-hander leads the Cubs into Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins on Friday hoping to give his team an edge.
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"You see confidence building every game and every inning," Cubs catcher Damian Miller said of Wood. "You talk to him and he's still the same old Kerry, but I think he's starting to realize he's one of the best right-handers in the league.
"You need games like this in the postseason to help you get to the next level," Miller said. "He's just gaining more confidence with every pitch."
Chicago and Florida are tied at one win apiece in the best-of-seven series, which now shifts south to hot, humid Miami. Both of Wood's postseason starts have been on the road. Atlanta, Florida, it doesn't matter.
"We're one of the few teams in the league -- and might be the only team -- that has the same exact record at home as on the road," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "So we pride ourselves in being a good road team."
Reliever Mike Remlinger has suggested one reason the team does well on the road is because they get to sleep in. Can't do that with all the day games at Wrigley Field. Wood has his own pregame rituals, day or night. His wife, Sarah, used to give him a lucky bamboo plant before each start last year. He does listen to music before starts on his iPod, tuning out all distractions in the clubhouse. His teammates love playing behind him.
"When he's on, you can sit back and kind of enjoy what he's doing out there," Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez said. "He's a pitcher that can control the game when he's pitching to his best ability. So it kind of makes the game quick. And as a defender, that's what you look forward to is being in and out quickly and getting quick outs, which he can do."
And before games?
"Before the game, he's as relaxed but as intense as they come," Gonzalez said. "You can tell that he's already focused on the game well before it starts and knowing what he wants to do out there on the mound. It's a pregame focus that he has that I think helps him maintain that on the field."
Mark Prior, Wood's teammate and the second half of the Cubs' stellar duo, said he admires Wood's "tenacity."
"He's had a long season and I think almost a tough season at times," Prior said. "In August when he had some back problems, people started to write him off. I think we all knew in the clubhouse and the guys close to him that he would come out and be strong and be tough and be the guy that I think everybody knows him to be.
"He's the leader of the staff, so to speak, the captain if we had one, I guess," Prior said. "When he goes and he's pitching well, I think we all go. And we all fall in line with what he does. Game 1 and Game 5 [of the NLDS], those were two huge games in the course of a series and he was as dominant as anybody has been in recent Division Series. That's just the way he is.
"He has the ability to be dominant," Prior said, "and when he needed to be this year, he was dominant and that's why we're here today."
Wood had not had much trouble with the Marlins this year. He threw a three-hit complete game July 9 at Wrigley, striking out 12. On July 19 at Pro Player Stadium, he also went the distance, giving up two hits and no runs and fanning eight.
"He's been beaten 11 times so far. He's not unbeatable," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said of Wood, who was 14-11 with a 3.20 ERA in the regular season and led the Major Leagues in strikeouts.
The Cubs are 4-0 in the postseason when Wood or Prior pitches, 0-3 in the other games. In 2001, Arizona rode Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson to a World Series title. Are Wood and Prior a younger version of Schilling and Johnson?
"It's obviously a tremendous compliment," Wood said. "In the past three or four weeks, I've heard enough of it. But it's obviously an honor to be compared to those two guys. I think it's a little unfair to them. Obviously, we haven't done what those guys have done throughout their career for this game, so we have a long ways to go."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.