Cubs putting Wood to test 21-year-old is asked to come off DL, beat Maddux, save season

October 03, 1998|By NEWSDAY

CHICAGO -- The script couldn't be more dramatic. Trailing the Atlanta Braves, 2-0, in their best-of-five National League Division Series, the Chicago Cubs are giving the ball to 21-year-old rookie sensation Kerry Wood tonight at Wrigley Field.

All they want Wood to do is come off the disabled list after not pitching for a month because of a sore elbow and go head-to-head with four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux in a desperate effort to preserve the playoff hopes of a franchise that is making only its third postseason appearance since 1945.

That's not asking too much, is it?

"There's always a risk of a pitcher going out there and getting hurt, but I think it's negligible," Cubs manager Jim Riggleman said.

All that's at stake is the brightest hope the Cubs have for the future. Wood went 13-6 with a 3.40 ERA, pitching 166 2/3 innings this season.

After his last start Aug. 31, he went on the disabled list because of a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. On Monday, Wood threw 51 pitches in the Arizona Instructional League, averaging 95 mph on his fastball, but he didn't throw any curves that could place strain on his elbow.

If this were the regular season, the Cubs likely would have given Wood two more weeks to rest his arm, but these are desperate times. Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros in his fifth big-league game and quickly became the most popular Cub this side of Sammy Sosa while putting together a season that made him the leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.

"It's the biggest game of the year, yet I don't want to go out and overdo it and not be able to pitch next year," Wood said yesterday. "If I feel anything with my arm, I will shut it down right away."

The atmosphere in Wrigley Field tonight should go completely off the thrill meter with Wood returning against former Cub Maddux (18-9).

In three regular-season starts against the Braves, Wood was 1-0 with a 2.18 ERA. The highlight was a 3-0 victory July 21 in Atlanta in which Wood struck out 11 in 7 2/3 innings to best Maddux.

"He has really lifted the spirits of the fans and his teammates from Day 1," Riggleman said of Wood. "He was electrifying in spring training. The guys were uplifted to know we had this guy coming in.

"But I think we're asking a lot of Kerry to go out there and pitch against Greg Maddux. It's going to be a tough challenge, but with the excitement of Wrigley Field, I think our other players will feed off that."

The Braves have been as impressed as anyone with Wood.

"You could see why baseball was raving about him," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's legitimate. I don't know if he's in Nolan Ryan's class, but he's not far behind. It's a matter of health dictating his future."

Expecting a wild scene at Wrigley, the Braves were relieved to pull out a 2-1 victory in Game 2 Thursday on a game-tying home run by Javy Lopez off Kevin Tapani with one out in the bottom of the ninth and Chipper Jones' winning single in the 10th off Terry Mulholland.

"If we had to go there at 1-1 and Kerry Wood has a hot hand, we could've been down 2-1," said Tom Glavine, the Braves' Game 2 starter. "Now we have a little room for error."

It should be quite a show, but Riggleman must be careful not to sacrifice Wood for the sake of a first-round playoff game.

That's even though these opportunities are few and far between for the Cubs.

The cool weather won't make it any easier for Wood.

"If he starts to drop his arm and have a potential problem, we'll get him out of there," Riggleman said. "If he's going strong and feeling good and the arm is in a good position and we get into that sixth-inning area, we'd probably feel very fortunate."

NL Division Series

*

Atlanta vs. Chicago Cubs

(Atlanta leads 2-0)

Game 1

Atlanta 7, Chicago 1

Game 2

Atlanta 2, Chicago 1, 10 inn.

Today: Game 3

Atlanta (Maddux 18-9, 2.22) at Chicago (Wood 13-6, 3.40), 7: 30 p.m., chs. 11, 4

Tomorrow: Game 4*

Atlanta (Neagle 16-11, 3.55) at Chicago (Trachsel 15-8, 4.46), 4: 07 or 7: 37 p.m., ESPN or chs. 45, 5

Monday: Game 5*

Chicago at Atlanta, 8: 07 p.m., chs. 45, 5

*-If necessary

AL Division Series

(

N.Y. Yankees vs. Texas

(New York leads 2-0)

Game 1

New York 2, Texas 0

Game 2

New York 3, Texas 1

Last night: Game 3

New York at Texas

Today: Game 4*

New York (Hernandez 12-4, 3.13) at Texas (Burkett 9-13, 5.68), 1: 07 p.m., ESPN

Tomorrow: Game 5*

Texas at New York, 7: 37 p.m., chs. 45, 5

*-If necessary

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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