In the aftermath of a game in which Andy Pettitte, Lance Berkman and Curtis Granderson have rightly been receiving the majority of the acclaim, I wanted to take a moment to give Kerry Wood some highly deserving props.
Brian Cashman acquired Wood at the trade deadline in a move no one seemed to predict, and was largely overshadowed by the trades for Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns. Wood was in the midst of a disappointing season with Cleveland, having posted a 6.30/5.18/5.00 ERA/FIP/xFIP line in 20 innings, but Cash saw something that he liked in there (and really, who knows what it was, given that he was underperforming his career numbers in nearly every major statistical category) to throw the dice on Wood and hopefully strengthen the Yankee bullpen.
Wood not only ended up being a revelation in the Yankee bullpen, yielding a minuscule two runs in 26 innings while putting up an 0.69/3.39/4.20 line (the latter two numbers are a tad inflated due to an unfortunately high walk rate), but emerged as Joe Girardi's primary set-up man. This has come as a great relief to Yankee fans, given the unevenness of Joba Chamberlain's season. Don't get me wrong, nothing would make me happier than to see Joba finally experience continued success in some kind of role, be it starter (yes, I'm still clinging to the dream) or reliever. Sure, Joba had shiny peripherals this season, but do you trust him to protect a two-run lead in the eighth-inning in the postseason right now? Joe Girardi doesn't appear to, and I'm not so sure how I'd feel about it either.
Which is what makes what Wood did last night that much more awesome. Wood set J.J. Hardy, Denard Span and Orlando Hudson down in order on a scant 10 pitches, including two strikeouts, and was simply dominant in doing so. I realize that trio isn't exactly a veritable murderer's row, but nevertheless it's still impressive. Here's a look at how Wood attacked:
Nothing very hittable here, just four pitches all artfully located on the edge of the strike zone. After starting Hardy off with a 94-mph ball at the knees, Wood got a called strike on his slider, a swinging strike on nearly the exact same pitch, and a called strike three on a nasty 78-mph curve. If Wood is able to continue to maintain a 15-mph difference between his fastball and curve, opponents probably shouldn't even bother stepping into the batter's box.
Wood quickly got ahead of Span 0-2 on a called 95-mph fastball on the black and an 89-mph slider that was fouled off, and promptly retired Span on a weak groundout right back to the mound.
This is absurd. Wood gets O-Hud to swing at a 94-mph fastball out of the zone, gets him to foul back a 95-mph heater right down Broadway and then coaxes a swinging strike three on high cheese that was practically at Hudson's eyes.
That's how you pitch an eighth inning.
Edited, 3:28pm: Of course shortly after I published this I then noticed that Stephen R. took an even further in-depth look at Wood, so go read his take too.