Chicago Cubs: Yu Darvish’s last start reminiscent of Kerry Wood’s 20-K game

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Things have changed since Kerry Wood whiffed 20 hitters in 1998, but Yu Darvish looked poised to write his own Chicago Cubs history in his last start.

As I sat in the stands last Tuesday night on an absolutely beautiful evening at the Friendly Confines, a rocky start to the game soured the mood of a lot of Chicago Cubs fans sitting nearby. But that’s not what caught my attention.

Yu Darvish, despite the early struggles, looked locked in. Trailing 3-0 with one punch-out already to his name, the right-hander took care of Phillip Ervin and Brian O’Grady to end the first. Again, no one seemed to particularly care about the three strikeouts – rather, the three runs seemed more pressing.

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After the Cubs got one back in the first, Darvish added two more strikeouts in the second, three in the third and another trio in the fourth. Through four, he’d amassed 11 punchouts – just nine shy of the all-time Major League record.

"“Yu’s on quite a run right now,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon told after the game. “I don’t even know if some of that stuff’s been done before. But, unfortunately, their guy is really good, too. In spite of us really swinging the bats well lately, Sonny did a nice job also.”"

But that’s where things slowed for the Chicago right-hander. He struck out just one in the fifth and didn’t record a single K in the sixth before tallying his final one of the night in the seventh, striking out Jose Peraza for the first out of the inning.

In his own way, Darvish made history. Dating back to his last start, he notched a startling 24 strikeouts across his last nine innings of work. He joined former Cubs aces Kerry Wood and Mark Prior as the only pitchers in franchise history with back-to-back starts with at least 13 strikeouts.

For me, Wood marked the name on my mind all evening. I remember growing up – I was only seven when the Texas-born hurler blew through the powerful Houston Astros lineup – watching his historic 20-strikeout performance in awe. But thinking about Darvish’s performance knowing how it ended, I can’t say I’m too shocked about the results.

I went back Wednesday morning and watched the highlights of Wood’s masterful performance from 21 years prior and one thing really stood out to me. That strike zone was ridiculous – Wood was getting calls a foot off the plate, much to the dismay of the Houston hitters.

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In today’s game, when umpires are under constant fire for their lack of a consistent zone, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a game called in such a fashion again. But that shouldn’t take away from what Darvish showcased his last two starts – if there’s any Chicago Cubs pitcher who has a shot at hitting that historic 20-strikeout mark in the near future, it’s this guy.