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OTD in 1998: Kerry Wood’s 20 Strikeout Game is Still Insane

OTD in 1998, Kerry Wood threw arguably the greatest pitching performance ever. Cody relives the magical moment from 1998.

Kerry Wood
Photo: AP Photo/Fred Jewell

Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game is still one of the most dominate performances ever by a major league pitcher.

Watching history in the making at Wrigley Field is something fans still never forget. On a random day, 23 years ago, 15,783 Cubs fans witnessed a crown jewel in Cubs’ history.

Most Cubs fans of my generation grew up idolizing Kerry Wood, and the most notable reason why is this historic performance on May 6, 1998.

The Cubs were just over a month into a season that eventually became famous for the Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire home run race.

Along the way, the highly touted flamethrower from Texas was called up to the major leagues, taking the NL by storm on his way to the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Wood made just his fifth career start that day, going up against a loaded Houston Astros team that was in first place in the NL Central. That team included future Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.

Bagwell went on to strikeout three times that day. The leadoff hitter, Biggio, was the only position player to strike out less than two times.

Brant Brown batted lead-off for the Cubs. The Sky is Falling Podcast crew and I spoke to him last summer about Sosa’s home run chase and Wood’s performance. You can listen to it in podcast form here.

To this day this game is considered one of, if not the most, dominant pitching performances ever. People remember the 20 strikeouts, but forget Wood also threw a one-hitter. The one hit was by Ricky Gutierrez, which many believe should have been scored as an error.

A third inning ground ball hit right off third baseman Kevin Orie‘s glove and rolled into left field. The hit was the only offense the Astros mustered up at Wrigley Field that day. That was it.

Wood threw 122 pitches, including 84 strikes.

In the history of baseball at the highest level, there have been 23 perfect games, but only five times has a pitcher fanned 20 batters while throwing no more than nine innings.

Roger Clemens did it twice. The first came in 1986 and the second came in 1996. Randy Johnson, Max Scherzer and Kerry Wood are the other three pitchers to throw 20 strikeout games.

Another incredible stat from Wood that day: zero walks.

Clemens allowed three hits in his performance in ’86 and five hits in his outing in ’96. Johnson allowed three hits in his 20 strikeout outing, and Scherzer allowed six hits in the most recent 20 strikeout game to date. Ironically, the total walks in each game were also zero.

Wood’s performance is undoubtedly the best of all the 20 strikeout pitchers. He allowed a single hit, that can be argued as an error, while allowing zero free passes. It’s hard to beat a perfect game, or a no-hitter, in terms of all-time pitching performances, but Wood’s game is arguably the greatest pitching performance ever.

Injuries really derailed what many hoped to be a Hall of Fame career for Wood. Despite never fully living up to the hype of becoming the Cubs’ ace over the longevity of a MLB career, he managed to finish his career proudly as a Cub. Many fans still adore Kerry Wood to this day.

One thing he’ll always be able to hang his hat on is this gem back in 1998.

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