Cubs History: Kerry Wood’s penchant for flirting with history

Mandatory Credit: Harry How /Allsport
Mandatory Credit: Harry How /Allsport /

Oftentimes, when you look think ‘Kerry Wood’ and ‘strikeouts’, you think about the May 6, 1998 game at Wrigley Field when the Cubs rookie struck out 20 Houston Astros, tying a big league record. But we’re not here to talk about that game. Instead, let’s turn the clock back to Aug. 26, 1998 in Cincinnati.

The young fireballer, who had been making a name for himself around baseball since his 20-strikeout performance, put together another highlight-reel performance against the Reds at old Cinergy Field (Riverfront Stadium). Wood was on his way to National League Rookie of the Year honors and this outing would help further solidify his standing.

To highlight what happened, Wood struck out 16 Reds in eight innings, leading to a 9-2 Cubs win. It marked the eighth time Wood struck out at least 10 batters in a game (he finished 1998 accomplishing that feat nine times total) and the fifth time he struck out at least 13. Striking out 233 hitters in 166 2/3 innings, the Texas-born hurler finished 1998 with the highest K/9 (12.6) in baseball.

Chicago Cubs: Looking back at Kerry Wood’s 16-strikeout game in Cincinnati

On the day, Wood gave up two runs – one earned – on three hits and three walks. The only earned run he gave up was a solo home run by Aaron Boone, while the unearned run was scored on an error by center fielder Lance Johnson.

While he did not go all nine innings, Rod Beck pitched the ninth, Wood still threw 133 pitches. Eighty-five of his pitches were strikes, 29 via contact, 27 swinging and 29 looking. Two balls in play were hit on the ground and nine in the air. The Game Score (GSc) rating for this game was 83. It’s worth noting his 20-strikeout game was 105, the highest in baseball history.

All eight Reds position players struck out at least once in this game, six of them at least two times, with two of them striking out three times. Reggie Sanders and Bret Boone were the two with the Golden Sombreros against Wood. Beck came in and struck out two more, raising the Reds’ strikeout total to 18 on the day.

Unlike the 20-strikeout game, the score was not close in the end. Gary Gaetti drove in four runs, Mark Grace had three hits and Sammy Sosa hit home run number 52 on the year. Four of the nine runs were scored in the top of the ninth when Wood was already gone.

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This and other outings from Wood’s rookie season deserve more recognition. The fact that he struck out at least 13 hitters as a 20/21-year-old in five of his first 26 starts is remarkable. Unfortunately, him being overworked in many of those starts appeared to have taken a toll on him long-term.  Still, when he was on he was absolutely dominant and he overcame injury issues so many times.