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Most dominating pitching performances

The day "The Rocket" took off





Saturday, April 28, 2001
A look back: Wood fans 20
ESPN.com news services

Editor's note: This is the story that appeared on ESPN.com when Kerry Wood fanned 20 Houston Astros on May 6,1998.

CHICAGO -- How do you top this one?

Kerry Wood will have about 20 years to match the magic he performed on Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

The 20-year-old rookie flamethrower for the Chicago Cubs took the mound in his fifth major-league start and 122 pitches later -- rising heaters that clocked 100 mph on a couple occasions, sliders and curves that dipped at unreachable angles, fastballs that painted the corners -- Wood had struck out 20 Houston Astros to tie Roger Clemens' major-league record.

K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K-KERRY
Only 18 times in big-league history has a player notched at least 18 strikeouts in a 9-inning game:
  K's Date Opp
Kerry Wood
CUBS
20 5/6/98 Astros
Roger Clemens
RED SOX
20 9/18/96 Tigers
Roger Clemens
RED SOX
20 4/29/86 Mariners
Randy Johnson
MARINERS
19 8/8/97 White Sox
Randy Johnson
MARINERS
19 6/24/97 A's
David Cone
METS
19 10/6/91 Phillies
Nolan Ryan
ANGELS
19 8/12/74 Red Sox
Tom Seaver
METS
19 4/22/70 Padres
Steve Carlton
PHILLIES
19 9/15/69 Mets
Randy Johnson
MARINERS
18* 9/27/92 Rangers
Ramon Martinez
DODGERS
18 6/4/90 Braves
Bill Gullickson
EXPOS
18 9/10/80 Cubs
Ron Guidry
YANKEES
18 6/17/78 Angels
Nolan Ryan
ANGELS
18 9/10/76 W. Sox
Don Wilson
ASTROS
18 7/14/68 Reds
Sandy Koufax
DODGERS
18 4/24/62 Cubs
Sandy Koufax
ASTROS
18 8/31/59 Giants
Bob Feller
INDIANS
18 10/2/38 Tigers
*Eight innings; also, since Kerry Wood fanned 20, Roger Clemens struck 18 for the Blue Jays on Aug. 25, 1998 vs. the Royals

"I couldn't imagine ever doing this, to tell you the truth," Wood said after pitching a one-hitter to lead the Cubs to a 2-0 victory.

"It's going to be special to strike out that many, regardless of who has done it," he said. "It hasn't settled in, and I'm still in awe a little bit."

Wood matched the record in stunning fashion, striking out eight of the final nine batters he faced. With two outs in the ninth, with fans in an uproar and chanting his name, Wood etched his name into the record books by finishing off Derek Bell with a nasty, darting slider.

He struck out the side in the first, fifth, seventh and eighth innings, didn't walk a batter and allowed only a hit batter and an infield hit that trickled off the glove of third baseman Kevin Orie in the third inning.

Wood (3-2), who will turn 21 on June 16, tied the record that Clemens set against Seattle on April 29, 1986, and matched by Clemens against Detroit on Sept. 18, 1996.

"That's the greatest thrill anyone could be associated with," Wood said. "Roger is a great pitcher and he's definitely established himself. I talked to him on the phone this past offseason."

Clemens and Nolan Ryan, whose No. 34 Wood wears on his back, are fellow Texans and the pitchers who have most inspired Wood. But on Wednesday, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound rookie was in a league of his own.

And if not for the third-inning infield single by Ricky Gutierrez, he would have had a no-hitter.

"It was something special," Cubs manager Jim Riggleman said. "I know I'm speaking for a lot of people in here when I say that's the best game I've ever seen pitched by anybody."

With the crowd of 15,758 chanting "Kerry, Kerry" in the last inning, Wood fanned pinch-hitter Billy Spiers on a 1-2 pitch leading off for his seventh straight strikeout. Craig Biggio then grounded to shortstop on a 1-0 pitch. "That's the first time I've heard the crowd groan on a routine two-hopper to short," first baseman Mark Grace said.

Wood tied the record by fanning Bell on a 1-2 pitch, pumped his fist, and was mobbed by his teammates.

Rocket happy for the company
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Roger Clemens was happy to welcome Kerry Wood to the 20-strikeout club.

"I think it's awesome," the four-time Cy Young Award winner said. "We just got wind of it before we left the hotel, but I'm sure I'll see and hear more about it as the day goes along."

Clemens accomplished the feat twice for Boston: against Seattle in 1986 and against Detroit in 1996.

"He's got a really good idea about how to pitch or he wouldn't be at this level right now, as young as he is," Clemens said. "I'm excited for him and his family."

Clemens is aware of Wood because they share the same Houston-based agents, Randy and Alan Hendricks.

"He had really unhittable stuff. It looked great from what I saw," Clemens said. "He was definitely featuring the ball in the strike zone with something on it.

"The bottom line is, anytime you strike out 20 in a game, you're throwing extremely well. You're definitely around the plate, and you're getting 20 outs by yourself out of 27. So, it was a pretty neat feat and I'm sure he's excited about it.

"He looks like he has a great breaking ball, and in the National League, you can work both sides of the plate extremely well. The strike zone is east-to-west over there, and you can expand on that."

"I had no idea how many I had going into the last three innings. After the first inning, I knew I had three and I lost track after that," said Wood, who threw 84 strikes out of his 122 pitches.

"I wasn't really worried about the strikeouts, I knew it was getting up there. It was just one of those days where every thing you throw is crossing the plate. It just felt like I was playing catch."

Wood said he didn't have good stuff warming up. And he was working with catcher Sandy Martinez for the first time, making his performance even more remarkable.

"We were on the same page. Every sign he put down I already had the grip in my glove," Wood said. "It felt like we could have gone out there with no signals.

"I'm going to give most of the credit to the fans," Wood said. "They were in it the whole game. My adrenaline was racing. Definitely I think that is what got me through late in the game. I was worn out, I was tired."

After the game, he was handed the lineup card by Cubs coach Billy Williams, a Hall of Famer.

In his first complete game in the majors -- or minors, for that matter -- Wood fanned the Astros 3-4-5 hitters -- Jeff Bagwell, Jack Howell and Moises Alou -- in all three of their at-bats.

"It's not fair to compare him to Nolan," Biggio said. "The kid's got good stuff, but leave comparisons alone. Today was his day. He had everything working. Plus it was the first time we faced him."

Astros manager Larry Dierker, a former major-league pitcher, did make a comparison.

"He reminded me of the first time I saw Ryan," Dierker said. "By the time the ball left his hand, it was in the mitt. Only that time, Ryan was wild. This kid wasn't wild."

Kerry Wood, hello world. Take a good look, because you'll probably never see it again. He was electric. He's too young and stupid to understand what he just did. He's just a baby. He's only 20, for crying out loud.
Cubs first baseman Mark Grace

Wood broke the NL record of 19 strikeouts in a nine-inning game, held by Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver and David Cone.

Wood, who struck out every batter at least once, broke the previous rookie record of 18, set by Bill Gullickson against the Cubs on Sept. 10, 1980.

The major-league record for an extra-inning game in 21 by Tom Cheney for Washington against Baltimore in a 16-inning game on Sept. 12, 1962.

"When a guy gets in a zone, that's what happens," Dierker added. "When somebody with extraordinary ability gets in a zone, special things happen. Our guys were contentious in the dugout. They'll tip their cap now, but during the game, no one was conceding anything."




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