Scott Eyre knew this day was coming. That didn't make it any less emotional.
The Cubs activated closer Kerry Wood from the disabled list before Tuesday's game and designated Eyre for assignment to make room on the roster. Wood is expected to pitch at least once in middle relief to get his feet wet before moving back to ninth-inning duties. He last pitched July 11 and has fully recovered from a blister on his right index finger.
Eyre, the light-hearted left-handed reliever, cleared waivers at noon CT. The Cubs have seven days to try to trade him. Eyre choked up while issuing his farewells.
"I enjoyed my time here in Chicago, I wish it would have turned out different," he said. "But I tell you what, the hardest part is saying goodbye to teammates. It's a great bunch of guys, a great place to play. Unbelievable fans, last night's game was a testament to what they're all about here, cheering just because we went back out [after a two-hour-45-minute rain delay] and played. That makes it worth it to leave on that note."
Eyre, 36, went 2-0 with a 7.15 ERA in what has been an injury-riddled season. He made 19 appearances in between two stints to the disabled list. The emergence of other lefties in the bullpen, Neal Cotts and Sean Marshall, along with strong performances from new faces Chad Gaudin and Jeff Samardzija squeezed Eyre out.
"He's a good young man," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We needed to get Woody on the roster, and we needed a spot. We couldn't go to 13 pitchers. Hopefully, somebody picks [Eyre] up and he can help a team. He's a good young man, and I wish him nothing but the best."
The roster squeeze put Cubs general manager Jim Hendry in a difficult position.
"You don't like these days to come very often," Hendry said. "You get to the point, if you have a contending club, the decisions are never easy. In the big scheme of things, it's better to have tougher decisions than no decisions. But at the same time, you can't help but get emotionally attached to good players who also happen to be good citizens. That's what he's been."
Left elbow inflammation delayed Eyre's 2008 debut until May 10. He suffered a strained groin and was placed on the DL again on June 27. Eyre didn't give up a run until June 15, a span of 14 appearances and nine innings. Tampa roughed him up on June 19 when Carl Crawford hit a grand slam off him. Eyre pointed to that outing as the beginning of the end.
"I had a bad game in Tampa, then kind of got pushed aside," Eyre said. "Everyone else pitched so good. You can't really go and complain, say 'Hey, I want to pitch,' because everyone else is doing so well."
The Cubs signed Eyre to a three-year deal before the 2006 season. He went 5-4 with a 4.03 ERA over 148 appearances with the Cubs, and he could still be of use as a lefty specialist for another club. Hendry had conversations with other teams about Eyre before the Trade Deadline.
"I certainly wouldn't be surprised if we had some action on him now," Hendry said. "I think he still has the ability to help a ballclub in the race or to get through the year, even for a non-contender."
Eyre is in the twilight of his career but wants to pitch beyond 2008. For now, he'll play the waiting game until a possible trade is made.
"I'm going to hop in my RV and drive home [to Bradenton, Fla.]," Eyre said. "My wife was packing up, because she was leaving to go home anyway. ... I just didn't get that chance to get back in there and pitch [in Chicago]. Now, maybe I'll get to go somewhere else and pitch and play next season again."
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