On May 6th, 1998, Kerry Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros at Wrigley Field in a performance that cemented his place in Chicago Cubs lore forever.
“Kid K,” as Kerry Wood would become known after the game, took the mound as a 20-year-old rookie out of Grand Prairie, Texas unaware that by the end of the day he would leave as co-holder of the MLB record for strikeouts in a single game. That afternoon game was Wood’s fourth in his rookie season and set the tone for the rest of his Rookie of the Year campaign.
How it happened
In true Chicago fashion, it was drizzling rain that day. Even so, Wood needed just over two hours to throw his dominant, one-hit shutout. He utilized his high 90’s fastball and a sharp 12-6 breaking ball to make baseball legends like Craig Biggio, Moises Alou, and Jeff Bagwell look silly. The trio combined to go 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts on the day.
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The Cubs rookie started out full-throttle. He struck out the first five batters he faced, and by the middle of the seventh, he had 15. He closed out the ninth with a strikeout and his 20th of the game.
Houston did have two base runners that afternoon. Biggio reached on a hit-by-pitch in the third inning, and Ricky Gutierrez had the team’s only hit on a weak dribbler to Cubs third baseman Kevin Orie.
Cementing Wood’s legacy
Sports Illustrated cited three factors which make Wood’s performance that day a truly dominating start: the opposition, the weather, and guile.
Typically, high strikeout performances come against weak offenses. However, the Astros had the fourth highest batting average in the league and had yet to be shutout that year.
By the end of the game, the pitching mound was as slick as a skating rink from the rain, but Wood stayed on his game. He struck out eight of his last nine batters faced and continued to feature his curveball.
Most importantly, that performance sent a message to the rest of the league. When a pitcher has batters saying…
"“I’ve never seen balls break like that” during their postgame interviews, everyone notices."
If you have the two hours to spare before the game tonight, check out the full replay here.