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.

Yu Darvish finally has his first win at Wrigley

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USA TODAY

Yu Darvish finally has his first win at Wrigley

Yu Darvish blew a 98 mph fastball by Yasiel Puig, pumped his fist emphatically twice and let out a primal yell as he walked off the mound while 37,260 fans at Wrigley Field backed him up with maybe the loudest "YUUUU!!!" chant of the season.

It was the final pitch he threw on the afternoon as he completely dismantled the Reds lineup in a 4-2 Cubs victory.

Since the All-Star Break, Darvish leads Major League Baseball in ERA — he hasn't allowed a run in 12 innings while striking out 15 and giving up only 4 hits and a walk. 

Oh yeah, and he finally picked up his first Wrigley Field win in a Cubs uniform...in his 28th start.

In both outings to start the second half, he took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and they're also the only two scoreless starts he has as a member of the Cubs (he gave up 0 earned run April 27 last year against the Brewers, but was charged with an unearned run).

The Cubs are now 5-1 since the All-Star Break and will carry a 2.5-game lead in the division into action Friday when the San Diego Padres come into town.

Cole Hamels, Alec Mills and the Cubs' short-term rotation picture

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USA TODAY

Cole Hamels, Alec Mills and the Cubs' short-term rotation picture

Just a few weeks after utilizing a six-man rotaiton, the Cubs are considering dropping back to a four-man starting staff for a bit.

Cole Hamels threw a bullpen Wednesday morning at Wrigley Field and reportedly felt great, but he's still at least a week or so away from returning to the Cubs rotation.

Couple that with the four days off for the All-Star Break last week and regular off-days coming up (three more still in July), the Cubs don't have an actual *need* for a fifth starter more than once between now and Aug. 3, as their four mainstays will be able to go on regular rest.

"We're gonna discuss that internally — things we want to do," pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. "We have the ability to go with a four-man [rotation] for an extended period of time with those off-days."

Hottovy acknowledged a four-man rotation is the Cubs' preference rather than keep Alec Mills in the rotation long-term, but there are many factors to consider.

"Our guys are feeling good, so we don't want to push the envelope with all these off-days and [tell the pitchers], 'you're still gonna be on a five-day rotation,'" Hottovy said. "So we gotta all talk and communicate about how guys are feeling and make that decision."

The Cubs have been cautious with their pitchers coming out of the break, too, given they've all been thrown off their normal rhythms and routines. It's also worth noting that Kyle Hendricks is still working his way back up to full strength after a shoulder injury cost him much of June.

When the Cubs opted to go with a six-man rotation last month, the whole idea was to rest these guys and make sure they're feeling fresh for the second half and down the stretch. The team had a pretty brutal stretch — 52 games in 54 days — before the All-Star Break.

But if everything continues to progress with Hamels and his oblique injury, the Cubs may not need a four-man rotation for long, even if they opt to go that route. 

After Wednesday's bullpen, the Cubs are going to give Hamels a couple days to recover and will plan another bullpen for this weekend (likely Saturday). Just like with Hendricks' recovery, the first bullpen is more for a gauge to see where the guy is at physically and then the second one will be more of a normal routine and getting back into rhythm mechanically, etc.

Following that weekend bullpen, the Cubs don't know yet whether they're going to have Hamels throw a simulated game or go on a rehab assignment as the next step. They'll evaluate all that this weekend and thanks to the regular time off coming up, they know they don't have to push it.

"If he feels good, we also don't want to slow-play Cole Hamels," Hottovy said. "He's a guy we want in the rotation."

The Cubs are off Thursday but then play six straight games and they will need a fifth starter for that stretch (next Tuesday in San Francisco).

As of right now, it sure looks like that guy could be Mills, who rebounded nicely after a rough first inning during Tuesday night's victory. 

Mills — a 27-year-old right-hander — has only pitched 11 career games in the big leagues, but he's been a nice depth option for the Cubs the last couple years. Including Tuesday night, he has a 4.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 24 big-league innings for the Cubs the last two seasons.

"I have a lot of confidence [in him]," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's definitely a big-league caliber pitcher. I don't think he's a 4-A guy; I think he's more than that. He just needs opportunity."

Both Maddon and Hottovy mentioned Mills' last start with the Cubs last August when he gave up a first-inning grand slam to the Mets before settling in to throw 4+ innings of solid ball from there.

Tuesday night, Mills got two quick outs (thanks in large part to Albert Almora Jr.'s defense) and then served up a solo homer to Eugenio Suarez, who absolutely kills the Cubs. From there, it was back-to-back hit batters and then a groundball basehit that went right to where third baseman Kris Bryant would've been standing had he not broke for the bag to cover on a steal attempt.

Mills was inches away from getting out of the first inning with only 1 run allowed, but he also only eventually escaped the jam when Almora threw a runner out at home plate on a double off the wall — or else there could've been even more damage.

After that, Mills held the Reds scoreless for the next five innings to notch the first quality start of his career.

"He regrouped well," Hottovy said. "Millsy's a pro. The guy's been mostly a minor-league guy, but I still consider him kind of one of those veteran guys. He's smart, he's poised. He comes in after that inning and he's like, 'Yeah, I thought I did this well, I didn't do this well.' And then we talked through it and he's able to wipe it clean and then reset. 

"It was such a good job by him to be able to do that with a good hitting team — to come back and set the tone. It's easy to have that inning and then kinda let things keep escalating. He was able to go right back down the next inning and shut 'em down and that really set the tone."