Unlikely hero: Wood bat makes huge impact for Cubs
Travis Wood, ladies and gentlemen!
He’s the Cubs pitcher — relief pitcher, make that — who came into Game 2 of the National League Division series Saturday night and needed but one swing of the bat to crush a home run to left field.
Holy Wheaties box!
The blast came after Wood, the mighty 5-11, 175-pounder from Little Rock, Arkansas, came on for starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks in the fourth inning of the Cubs 5-2 win over the Giants.
What happened to Hendricks?
Our favorite Dartmouth man and Cy Young Award candidate got nailed on the right forearm by a screaming liner off the bat of the Giants’ Angel Pagan. Cubs players, the trainer, pitching coach Chris Bosio and manager Joe Maddon came to the mound to huddle around Hendricks, who seldom touched his forearm, as per baseball tough guy etiquette, and then threw some practice pitches off the mound. No go.
‘‘I think he’s fine,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He knew it was going to get sorer.’’
And without further ado Wood trotted into the game. He struck out Conor Gillaspie to retire the Giants and then prepared for his role at the plate.
It’s not as if Wood is a great hitter, even if Maddon did play him briefly this year in left field. That was a strategy thing, not an offensive thing. He had two hits this regular season, three the season before, none for extra bases. Barry Bonds he is not.
But his rocket came on the first pitch from Giants reliever George Kontos, and one wasn’t quite sure if Wood had even warmed up with the bat. Let’s call it being jazzed.
‘‘It happened pretty quick,’’ he said. ‘‘But as a bullpen guy you’re always ready.’’
This was something you don’t see very often, unless you were around the last time a relief pitcher hit a homer in the postseason, which was in October, 1924. The slugger was the Giants pitcher Rosy Ryan — that’s right, Rosy was a guy’s nickname back in the day — against the Washington Senators.
Nobody knows how far that ball traveled or what its exit speed was, since baseball technology back then was highlighted by spitballs and beanballs and not metrics and algorithms.
But Wood’s tater, according to Statcast, flew 393 feet and blew off his bat at 101.5 mph. It was Wood’s second hardest-hit ball of the season, for what that minutiae is worth.
‘‘We’ve been in this position before,’’ said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whose team was down 2-0 in the five-game series.
Maybe the frequent World Series-winning Giants have been in this position before, but the Cubs seem like a different foe than they have met recently.
Hendricks was puttering along in reasonable fashion with his 89-mph fastball, 81-mph changeup, and 74-mph curveball when he was blasted by Pagan. He had given up two runs in 3‰ innings, and it seemed he might be getting figured out by Giants hitters.
Hendricks relies on craftiness more than David Copperfield. He has never overpowered anyone, and it’s just possible — in the Cubs’ magic of the moment — that getting that bruised forearm and leaving the game was the best thing that could have happened.
If nothing else, how would Wood have hit his dinger if he hadn’t come on when he did? It’s likely that even if he was used later in the game, he would not have been allowed to hit by Maddon.
The funny thing here is that Kerry Wood, one of two other Cubs pitchers to hit a postseason home run, said just the other day that his blast in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS was among the highlights of his career. Of course, as he noted, ‘‘it was followed pretty quickly by the low point.’’
That would be the ensuing loss to the Marlins and the sadness of unfulfillment that lingers on.
Two pitching Woods, two tales.
Naturally, closer Aroldis Chapman would come on to close out this game with his 103-mph heat. Chapman is to Hendricks as Hercules is to David. But as we know there are many ways to be successful.
Like hitting a homer when no one expects it.
‘‘I was trying to get a pitch,’’ Wood said. ‘‘You know, it’s baseball, anything can happen.’’
Travis Wood, take another bow!
Follow me on Twitter @RickTelander.