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.