ATLANTA—Kerry Wood pitched one of the best games of his career last October at Turner Field, sending the Cubs into the National League Championship Series with his Game 5 masterpiece.
An early April start can't be compared with the postseason stage, but suffice it to say Wood feels right at home in Atlanta.
the Braves on Sunday, improving to 2-0. Corey Patterson, Michael Barrett, Alex Gonzalez and Moises Alou homered as the Cubs ended their season-opening trip 3-3.
"Three-and-three doesn't sound great," manager Dusty Baker said. "But it sure sounds better than 2-4."
Of course, it could have been 4-2 if not for Saturday's tough loss, but the Cubs aren't fretting yet.
"Not bad," Wood said. "It could be worse. We played some decent baseball [and] came up against some pretty good pitching in the games we lost."
Wood allowed one run on five hits in seven innings and tied Mark Prior for the Cubs record for consecutive strikeouts by a starter, fanning seven straight from the third inning into the fifth. Prior had set the mark against Houston on Aug. 15, 2002.
Asked if it was Wood's most commanding performance, Baker said it was the best "since last time we were here," referring to Game 5 of the NL division series.
"Early he wasn't 'sharp' sharp," Baker said. "Then he got sharp in the middle innings. I didn't know he struck out seven in a row."
The most consecutive strikeouts by any Cubs pitcher is eight, set by Kyle Farnsworth in 2001 and tied by Juan Cruz last year. On both occasions the Cubs' relievers needed two appearances to record eight straight strikeouts. It also was Wood's 38th double-digit strikeout game, and the 11 strikeouts moved him ahead of Bob Rush for seventh place on the franchise's all-time list with 1,082.
The Cubs took two of three in the series, limiting Atlanta hitters to a .189 average. They flew to Chicago afterward for Monday's home opener, where Greg Maddux will take the mound in his much-anticipated return to Wrigley Field.
After walking three of the first 10 batters, Wood began to take control in the third, using his slider to perfection while staked to a 3-0 lead. A leadoff walk by Mark DeRosa and a single and steal of second by Marcus Giles put runners on second and third with no outs. But Wood reared back and struck out the heart of the Atlanta orderChipper Jones, J.D. Drew and Andruw Joneswho all missed badly on sliders for strike three.
"That was the turning point of the game," Baker said. "That was big for Woody."
Wood said he "felt fortunate" to get past those three hitters in that situation.
"It's special against that lineup," he said. "I just made pitches there and seemed to get into a little bit of a rhythm and was able to take it out the next couple of innings."
The first two batters in the fourth, Julio Franco and Johnny Estrada, also struck out swinging on late-dipping sliders, before Jesse Garcia failed to get around on a 96-m.p.h. fastball, ending the inning. Wood struck out pitcher Russ Ortiz to start the fifth before the streak ended on a DeRosa lineout to right field.
"Early on [the slider] didn't seem to have as much bite," Wood said. "But we stayed with it. Progressively, through the course of the game, it kept getting better and better, so I kept throwing it."
Wood exited after throwing 105 pitches through seven innings. LaTroy Hawkins and Michael Wuertz added four more strikeouts the last two innings, giving the Cubs 15 for the game and a league-leading 69 in six games, an average of 11.5 per game. With so many power pitchers on the staff, it's a trend that figures to continue.