A year ago this month, Ryan Dempster was closing games for a Cubs team on the way to the playoffs, and Kerry Wood was on the comeback trail again, eying a return to the active roster that came with about two months to go.
``What a difference a year makes,’’ manager Lou Piniella said after Wood finished what Dempster started Thursday night in the Cubs’ thrill-ride 5-4 win over the Dodgers in the opener of a four-game series at Dodger Stadium.
In fact, what a difference a month makes for Wood.
Since blowing a save at home against Milwaukee on May 1, Wood is 13 for 14 in save chances with a 0.93 ERA and 25 Ks in 19 1/3 innings.
Despite his load-‘em-up, blow-‘em-down adventure in the ninth Thursday, Wood says he’s more comfortable in his first-year role than he’s been all year – mostly because he’s been in so many save opportunities in recent weeks.
The experience showed in his approach Thursday after allowing a leadoff double. He got two quick outs and after hitting pinch-hitter Terry Tiffee, walked former teammate Juan Pierre with a steady diet of breaking pitches – the Pierre part of that sequence by design.
``I don’t think you’re going to strike out Pierre too often, so I nibbled,’’ Wood said. ``In that situation, I felt more comfortable with [right-handed] Matt Kemp up there.’’
Not so much when he fell behind 2-0 to Kemp. But when Kemp swung through a breaking pitch out of the strike zone then looked at a fastball for strike two, Wood had him. Kemp swung through another fastball for the game ender.
And about that hit batter? Despite his relatively few innings pitched, Wood moved into a tie for the National League lead with six hit batsmen – a problem that plagued him enough on first batters the first six weeks of the season that Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild talked to him about it.
``Late in the game you’ve got to be aggressive,’’ Wood said, ``but in those other situations, I hit guys with sliders. Tonight I hit the guy with a fastball. So I’m not really worried about that one.
``To his credit [the switch-hitting Tiffee] didn’t really try to get out of the way, and it hit him. With the tying run on second, I’d rather hit the guy than leave it over the plate and let him whack it.’’