Manager Dusty Baker compared it to getting "your whole army back," while reliever Will Ohman called it a midseason "gift" to the Cubs.
Kerry Wood's impressive comeback start Wednesday in the Cubs 3-2 victory over Milwaukee, coming on the heels of Mark Prior's gem against the White Sox on Sunday, seemingly has given new life to a ballclub in dire need of it.
"You have two guys off the disabled list just dealing," Ohman said. "That's a huge lift to our team, to have 40 percent of the starting rotation back."
Todd Hollandsworth's game-winning, ninth-inning, RBI single off reliever Julio Santana gave the Cubs to their fourth straight victory, but it was Wood's dominating performance in his first start in nearly two months that electrified the crowd of 38,846.
Dueling Ben Sheets for six strong innings, Wood was tagged for only two hits, including Bill Hall's home run in the fourth, while striking out nine. He left the game with a 2-1 lead, only to watch Glendon Rusch serve up a game-tying, home run to Lyle Overbay leading off the seventh.
But the Cubs' bullpen came up big. Ohman struck out Overbay to end the eighth with two men on, and Roberto Novoa (2-1) struck out three in the ninth after a leadoff walk. Hollandsworth's clutch hit with one out in the ninth set off pandemonium at Wrigley Field.
The Brewers approached Wood with trepidation, knowing the best way to beat him is to hope his control is off-kilter. "Everybody knows what he's going to do and what he's got," said Milwaukee catcher Damian Miller, Wood's former batterymate. "It's a matter of making him throw strikes."
But Wood got ahead in counts early and established his fastball immediately with 10 of his 13 pitches in the first inning registering 95 or 96 m.p.h.
"I could see the difference in his mechanics right away," Baker said. "And he was throwing strikes right away."
Wood broke out the curve to freeze Overbay on an 0-2 pitch in the second and perfectly mixed his repertoire of pitches thereafter.
"I put the curveball grip in my glove, and Michael [Barrett] called it," Wood said of the pitch to Overbay. "It was the first pitch he put down, so we threw it, and it was a good one."
Wood also had inning-ending strikeouts on nasty curves against Geoff Jenkins in the fourth and Carlos Lee in the sixth, the final strikeout in his 91-pitch outing.
Wood said during his rehab that his delivery would be "less violent" than in the past, but on Wednesday he declined to discuss his improved mechanics.
"On off-speed pitches his arm was really up, and he didn't drop his elbow at all on any of his pitches, the whole game," Barrett said. "When he stays consistent with his delivery like that, it makes it easy on him to make his pitches."
Wood also worked at a quicker pace, prompting Brewers hitters to step out of the box on occasion. Wood said it was not a conscious decision on his part, but he was pleased with the results.
"The guys behind you don't complain when you're working faster," Wood said.
Will opponents view the Cubs differently now, as a playoff-caliber team with Wood and Prior?
"Oh yeah," Miller said. " It seems like the Cubs have been hurt a lot in the fifth and sixth innings. [Prior and Wood] can carry the load into the seventh, eighth or ninth innings, and that should help the bullpen."
Because of their recent history of injuries and the Cubs' less-than-stellar first-half record, Wood and Prior are under pressure. But great expectations have followed them their entire careers, and neither one has blinked.
"I'm glad to be back, I know Mark is glad to be back, and I think the guys are glad to have us back," Wood said.
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