Cubs

17 years ago today: Cubs' Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game

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17 years ago today: Cubs' Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game

By Sarah Langs

17 years ago today, Kerry Wood made history at Wrigley Field. On May 6, 1998 in a day game against the Houston Astros, Wood struck out 20 batters en route to a shutout. 

The 20 strikeouts were the most ever in a nine-inning game. Roger Clemens set the record on April 29, 1986, and sent 20 down again on September 18, 1996. Randy Johnson joined Clemens and Wood as the only pitchers to accomplish the feat on May 8, 2001. Technically, Johnson’s game wasn’t a nine-inning game, but Johnson pitched nine innings before yielding to the bullpen when the game went to extras.

At the time, Wood was a 21-year-old rookie. For comparison, Addison Russell is 21 right now, and was a four-year-old on that May day.

The game was just Wood’s fifth career start. That’s not to say that Cubs fans shouldn’t have seen the strikeout dominance coming, though. In his first four career starts — in April, just prior to the May 6 game — Wood struck out seven batters twice and nine batters once.

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It was a strikeout-heavy year for Wood, who struck out 233 in 26 starts in 1998. He only once notched more punchouts than that mark — 266 in 2003 when he led the league in the category.

Wood allowed only one hit — a Ricky Gutierrez single to lead off the top of the third inning.

It was the first of five career shutouts for Wood. One of those other shutouts, on May 25, 2001 against the Brewers, was the only other time Wood gave up one hit over nine innings.

Wood would go on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award.

What was the scene at Wrigley like that Wednesday 17 years ago? The paid attendance was 15,758 and the game-time temperature was 71 degrees.

Craig Biggio led off for the Astros and future Cub Moises Alou hit fifth. Current Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was behind the plate for Houston.

The Houston pitcher was Shane Reynolds, who turned in an impressive start as well. He was no joke at the end of Wood’s pitching line. Reynolds recorded 10 strikeouts on the day and gave up two runs, one earned. Reynolds would finish the year with a 3.51 ERA, .11 higher than Wood’s 3.40.

For the Cubs, Sammy Sosa hit third and Mark Grace hit cleanup. The two RBI were recorded by Henry Rodriguez and Jose Hernandez.

Wood’s 12.58 K per nine innings that year was surpassed only twice since. Pedro Martinez’s 13.20 mark in 1999 and Johnson’s 13.41 in 2001.

Elsewhere around the league that day, seven current major league managers were in action as players, with three others on active rosters but getting the day off. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, Twins' Paul Molitor, Astros' AJ Hinch, White Sox Robin Ventura, Rockies' Walt Weiss, Brewers' Craig Counsell and Cardinals' Mike Matheny played, while Marlins' Mike Redmond, Yankees' Joe Girardi and Nationals' Matt Williams sat the benches. Current GMs Ruben Amaro, Phillies, and Jerry Dipoto, Angels, played, too.

Jose Canseco hit a homer that day as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Other notable dingers came from Jim Thome (CLE), Chuck Knoblauch (NYY), Tim Raines (NYY), Larry Jones (ATL), Barry Bonds (SF), Gary Sheffield (FLA), Bobby Bonilla (FLA) and Tony Gwynn (SDP).

David Ortiz was still a Minnesota Twin. Alex Rodriguez went 0-5 as the Mariners’ shortstop, hitting in front of Ken Griffey, Jr. Future Cub Greg Maddux pitched seven scoreless for the Braves.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”