Kerry Wood‘s Incredible Performance
Everyone knows this game even if they’re not a Cubs fan. I’ll wait for you to watch this video for two hours:
Yes, this was a National League game, which meant Kerry Wood got to face the pitcher’s spot at least three times. The game had a weird start with Wood’s first pitch hitting umpire Jerry Meals right in the mask, but he came right back to strike out Craig Biggio…and 19 other Houston Astros. Keep in mind that this was an Astros team that won over 100 games to lead the NL Central, though this game came before they traded for Randy Johnson. The Cubs did win the wild card over the San Francisco Giants that year, so they weren’t too terrible…and there was that Sammy Sosa guy obliterating baseballs all season, too.
The Astros had should-be-Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell in the lineup, as well as a red-hot Derek Bell and one Moises Alou, coming off a World Series championship with the Florida (now Miami) Marlins. This lineup was GOOD. And they barely touched Kerry Wood. Wood had two blemishes on his game with a hit-by-pitch (Biggio, of course) and an infield single that might have been scored otherwise. Despite not having a no-hitter or a perfect game, Kerry Wood managed to earn the best game score in baseball history with that performance. And the start was even more impressive because Astros starter Shane Reynolds was matching Wood nearly pitch for pitch, with 10 strikeouts of his own. The Cubs ended up only winning 2-0.
To his credit, Wood never blamed Riggleman. “My elbow was going to go,” Wood told The Washington Post in 2010. “If it didn’t go with [Riggleman] it would’ve gone with someone else. It was the way I was throwing, the stuff I had, the torque I was generating. It was a matter of time.”
Many years after that historic game, which helped Wood win the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year award, he revealed something that made me cringe:
Kerry Wood revealed something pretty interesting during a recent interview with David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com, saying that his 20-strikeout game against the Astros on May 6, 1998 on was the first time he felt something in his right elbow.
It all started with that famous final pitch, a wicked swinging strikeout of Derek Bell. Still, the recently-retired right-hander told Kaplan that whatever changed with his elbow that day was “worth it.”
Wood threw 122 pitches in his 20-strikeout game. He got Dusty Baker‘d before Dusty Baker even became manager, had Tommy John surgery the following season, and then was a solid starter for a number of years after that before converting to a reliever, always battling injury. But for that one day in his rookie season, he was the master of all he surveyed, mowing down a lineup full of Hall of Famers and All-Stars.
Like random perfect games by guys like Dallas Braden or Phil Humber, you never know when magic will happen in baseball. Kerry Wood wasn’t perfect, but his dominance blew all the perfect games (so far) out of the water. And I guess it was worth it, because we won’t shut up about it.
34 more sleeps…