Cubs rookie Kerry Wood delivers a pitch to a Houston Astros batter during the fifth inning Wednesday, May 6, 1998, in Chicago. Wood tied the major league record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game, pitching a one-hitter to beat the Astros 2-0. (AP
Updated: May 18, 2012 1:26PM
On May 6, 1998 in just his fifth start, Kerry Wood tied a Major League record, striking out 20 batters in a one-hit performance against the Houston Astros. Here is the Chicago Sun-Times account of that game:
His name now and forever more should be K-k-k-k-kerry Wood.
And that’s only enough K’s to get you through Wood’s first two innings Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
From the seventh inning on, he became K-k-k-k-k-k-k-kerry Wood.
In the end, after the last Houston Astros player had struck out, he was solid 20K(arat) Kerry Wood.
On one unforgettable, rainy afternoon, the legend that will be K-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-kerry Wood had grown longer and faster than his first name.
The K-kid had it stuck on automatic in the 2-0, one-hit, major-league-strikeout-record-tying performance. Like having the “K” key stuck on your computer keyboard.
Those fans in the first row of the left-field bleachers - the ones who held up K cards after each strikeout - are going to have to recruit some more friends. And maybe even stretch over to the right-field bleachers.
What happened Wednesday might be your old “man against boys” matchup, except the man in this case is really just a boy.
Twenty years old.
Four major-league games behind him.
And who knows what’s ahead of him.
Maybe more than tying the record 20 strikeouts of fellow Texan Roger Clemens? Maybe more than the seven no-hitters of fellow Texan Nolan Ryan?
“That game reminded me a lot of the first time we saw Ryan,” Astros manager Larry Dierker said, “in the sense that it seemed like when the ball left his hand, it hit the (catcher’s) mitt at the same time.”
Dierker said the Houston radar gun had him at 100 m.p.h. on one pitch.
Scouts behind home plate had him at 99 m.p.h. several times and never below 95, which is still harder than any other Cubs starter throws on his best day.
However, everyone agreed that the difference Wednesday was Wood’s curve. For this one afternoon, at least, he couldn’t miss the strike zone with it. And that’s the reason he walked none.
“The kid’s going to have some (control) problems along the way, and he’s also going to have some more games like this,” said Dierker, who pitched his first major-league game at age 18. “He’s going to pitch a no-hitter, or maybe a few no-hitters, and he might strike out more than this sometime. His stuff is the real item.”
And then Dierker said something that’s downright scary:
“You can clearly distinguish what he is throwing from what everybody else in the league throws.”
In other words, the Cubs have potentially the best pitcher in the National League - and he’s only a rookie. There could be many more years of this to come.
Already, Wood is the No. 1 pitcher on the Cubs, even on those days when he isn’t the best pitcher in baseball, as he was Wednesday.
What happened Wednesday at Wrigley was what real No. 1 pitchers do: tell their teammates, “Climb on my shoulders, and I’ll carry you through.”
The victory not only was against the team leading the National League Central, but also followed by less than 24 hours the sloppiest Cubs performance of the season. And it came on a day when the Cubs could score only two runs.
They don’t come any better than Wednesday.
Is it possible they don’t come any better than Wood?
“He’s the best first-year pitcher I’ve ever seen,” said Toronto Blue Jays scout Gordon Lakey, who has been scouting the major leagues for 20 years.
Sitting next to Lakey, nodding his head, was Dave Yoakum, special assistant to White Sox general manager Ron Schueler and also a scout for two decades.
“It’s the second time I’ve seen him here,” Yoakum said.
Enough to start trade rumors, usually.
“Oh, yeah, the Wood trade,” Yoakum said, laughing.
Right now, the Cubs probably wouldn’t trade Wood for the entire Sox roster.
“It’s really hard to believe he’s only 20 years old,” Yoakum said. “He has such poise and command. He’s a full-grown man out there. And he throws one pitch 99, then comes back and throws the next one that’s a curveball and starts at your face and breaks into the strike zone.”
Yoakum and Lakey clocked Wood’s big-breaking overhand curveball at 72 m.p.h., his three-quarter-arm angle curve (which some call a slider) at 82-84 m.p.h.
“You know,” Lakey said, “there’s a new term being used in baseball these days: electric. Like, `This guy has an electric fastball’ or `This guy has an electric curveball.’
“Well, this guy ain’t electric, he’s nuclear.”
As we have seen earlier, Wood will not always have such good command of his two curveballs. But when he is on . . .
“Pedro Martinez makes good hitters look foolish,” Yoakum said. “This guy can, too.”
He did it to the Astros’ Jeff Bagwell, the one-time unanimous most valuable player and the reigning All-Star first baseman.
Bagwell was called out on strikes in the first inning. He was called out on strikes in the fourth. He went down swinging in the seventh.
“The count was 3-and-1 (in the first), and he knows I’m a fastball hitter,” Bagwell said. “So he throws me a 3-1 slider, then on 3-and-2, he throws me a hook (curveball).
“That’s impressive. I don’t know if he can have that type of control (with the curveballs) all the time. I imagine he can’t get too much better than this.”
Anything much better would be perfection.
“The thing that really amazed me is that he throws a 3-2 curveball, on Dave Clark, in the eighth inning, with a one-run lead, and it’s raining like crazy,” Dierker said. “He throws the 3-2 curveball and gets it over the plate. It’s just amazing. “
It was amazing from the very first pitch, a 99 m.p.h. fastball to leadoff man Craig Biggio that soared all the way back to the screen.
Biggio, a six-time All-Star, started the K parade by striking out on that at-bat. He also was one of just two Houston baserunners, getting hit by a Wood curveball in the sixth inning.
“I guess I should thank him. At least I got on base,” Biggio said.
Wood struck out only one in that sixth inning. But he struck out the side in the first, fifth, seventh and eighth.
He started the game by striking out five. He ended the game by striking out eight of nine.
Houston’s hitters never had a chance.
“Throughout the game, nobody was conceding anything in our dugout,” Dierker said. “We were trying to win the game. It’s just that we couldn’t hit the ball.”
Even the “hit” probably wasn’t a hit, although veteran official scorer Don Friske was adamant at the time - and later - that it was. If it was a hit, it was a cheap one, a soft grounder that skimmed off Kevin Orie’s glove into left field.
It doesn’t matter. Wood has plenty of time to throw his no-hitter(s). Right now, for one day, K-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-kerry Wood is King.