It’s hard to believe it all happened 18 years ago. I was a sophomore in high school and I rushed home, like always during the baseball season, to try to catch the last few innings of the Cubs game on WGN.
By the time I had frightened off any younger siblings and changed the channel away from a Barney and Friends rerun it was only the 7th inning…and something amazing was happening. A rookie–a kid, really, not much older than I was–had 12 strikeouts coming into that 7th inning and I was spellbound. I sat in awe for the next 3 innings as Kerry Wood struck out 8 of the last 9 Astros he faced.
This was not a weak hitting Astro team, either. Craig Biggio is in the Hall of Fame, largely for his hitting prowess and Jeff Bagwell should join him in Cooperstown soon. Derek Bell, Brad Ausmus and Moises Alou were above average with the bat also. Ironically, the only hit allowed by Wood was by light-hitting shortstop, Ricky Gutierrez on a ball deep to the 5.5 hole, between third base and shortstop.
It has been speculated, and I tend to agree, that allowing the hit helped take some of the pressure of a potential no-hitter away from Wood, pitching in only his 5th MLB game, and gave him the freedom to pitch the way that he wanted to.
The game took a mere 2 hours and 19 minutes to complete, and was played in front of less than 16,000 fans, in defiance of the legion of fans who now claim to have been in attendance.
20 strikeouts in a single game set the National League record, which has since been tied by Randy Johnson and tied the MLB mark, set twice by Roger Clemens, but what needs to be noted, once again, is the fact that Wood was pitching in the major leagues for only the 5th time, whereas both Johnson and Clemens were well established veterans for their record-setting games.
According to Bill James it was the greatest game ever pitched and it set Wood on track for a 13-6 record and, eventually, the honor of the National League Rookie of the Year. While his career never quite blossomed into one of Hall of Fame caliber, he was a 2x All Star and has become one of the faces of the Chicago Cubs and a wonderful ambassador for the team.
I always felt a connection to “Kid K,” likely due to the similarity in our ages, and he is one of my all time favorite Cubs, certainly of the late ’90s/early 2000s. Congratulations on your amazing game and thank you for giving me such a wonderful memory.