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He's Cubs' stopper, big bopper
When Kerry Wood hit a home run in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series last October, he may have produced one of the loudest roars ever heard at Wrigley Field.
But when the Cubs lost the game to the Florida Marlins and a chance to go to the World Series, a tearful Wood blamed himself for the team's collapse.
Ten months have passed and Wood is determined to rewrite the script.
Wood threw eight shutout innings and hit a solo home run Saturday in the Cubs' 2-0 win over Los Angeles on a crisp, fall-like afternoon on the North Side.
"He wanted to be the guy out there," Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said. "He wanted to be the stopper, and it was an awesome performance."
Coming off a subpar performance at San Francisco, Wood (7-5) allowed four hits while striking out seven in a 121-pitch outing.
He also got by with a little help from his friends.
Moises Alou made a diving catch in left field.
Derrek Lee made a sterling play at first on a bad-hop grounder.
And shortstop Nomar Garciaparra made a great stab to start a double play in the sixth and a spin-o-rama move that would have made Denis Savard proud while throwing out Shawn Green in the ninth.
"The defense won this game for us," Wood said. "And defense can be something that's going to take us to the next level."
Wood's first-pitch home run off Kazuhisa Ishii leading off the third and Corey Patterson's two-out RBI single in the fifth were the only runs on a day when the wind blew in at a 15-m.p.h. clip.
The key moment for Wood came in the eighth when Milton Bradley walked on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases with two outs for Adrian Beltre, who was hitting .326 with 32 homers.
Cubs manager Dusty Baker didn't consider going to his bullpen.
"That was Woody's game," Baker said. "He deserved the opportunity."
Wood got ahead with two quick strikes before Beltre fouled off two pitches, one shearing off a chunk of the barrel of his bat.
With most of the crowd of 39,069 on their feet chanting his name, Wood came back with a slider that caused Beltre to check his swing.
First-base umpire Brian O'Nora ruled Beltre went around for strike three as Wood calmly pumped his fist and strolled off the field.
"At that point Kerry hadn't thrown a whole lot of sliders," Barrett said. "I knew it was going to be a sharp slider if we went to it. Kerry made the pitches. I know Beltre is a great breaking-ball hitter. A couple of times he was sitting on it, but Kerry still made some great pitches in that at-bat."
Wood said he worked Beltre inside in his previous at-bats, hoping to set him up to chase a slider off the plate.
"It worked out," he said.
Left-handed reliever Mike Remlinger pitched a scoreless ninth, earning his first save in place of suspended closer LaTroy Hawkins. Wood likely will get his next start pushed back when he begins serving his suspension from an April 17 incident with umpire Eric Cooper.
The Cubs need to get on a roll after losing their last two series to San Francisco and San Diego.
"I know it's getting late, but we haven't played our best baseball yet," Baker said. "One day we'll get good pitching and not hit. The next day we'll hit and not get much pitching. We haven't had that combination of when you're not hitting that day, you win 2-1, or when you're not pitching that day, you win 9-8.
"We've got to stay after it and realize, 'Hey, we're going to get this thing done.' I believe that from the bottom of my heart."