Kerry Wood is most famous for what happened on May 6, 1998, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The early season afternoon game featured Wood, a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, against one of the best hitting clubs in the majors, the Houston Astros. It turned into one of the most dominating pitching performances in baseball history.
Wood struck out 20 Astros that day, tying the Major League Baseball record for most strikeouts in a game. Wood shares the record with Roger Clemens, who did it twice with the Boston Red Sox, and Max Scherzer, who did it in 2016 with the Washington Nationals.
The 20-strikeout game happened in Wood’s rookie season in just his fifth start in the majors. He went on to an impressive 14-year career, although it was marred by injuries, a fact that has kept him from consideration among favorite MLB pitchers.
Kerry Wood Early Life
Wood was born on June 16, 1977, in Grand Prairie, Texas, one of the many communities that make up the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Wood played baseball from a young age. In high school, he played for two different teams. For the first three years, he played for MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas. For his senior year, he played for the Grand Prairie High School team that also had future major leaguer Kevin Walker on the club.
After high school, Wood committed to play college baseball at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. However, the Cubs drafted him in 1995. He ended up playing three years in the minors for the Cubs, where he foreshadowed what he would do in the majors. At times he dominated, and at times he was extremely wild.
For example, in 1997 he led the minors with 131 walks.
May 6, 1998
The Cubs called Wood up to the majors in 1998. He made his debut in April. The May 6 game against the Astros was his fifth start.
In his first pitch of the game to Craig Biggio of the Astros, Wood sailed the ball over the catcher and straight into the facemask of the home plate umpire. Not a great start. “What a way to start a game!” the announcer said in the television broadcast. Another noted, “The rap on Kerry Wood is that he does struggle with his command.”
However, Wood had already shown that he could be both wild and accurate, often in the same inning. On this day against the Astros, he regained his command against Biggio and kept it, striking Biggio out. He only had one more wild pitch the entire game.
Taking on big hitters such as Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Derek Bell, Wood racked up 20 strikeouts in a 2-0, complete game, one-hit win. He had incredible movement on his curveball, which combined with his fastball made him unhittable.
Kerry Wood MLB Career
After such a great start Wood was only 20 years old when he ended up getting hurt and missing all of 1999. He returned in 2000 and pitched for the Cubs until 2008. In 2003, he led the majors in strikeouts with 266.
Wood also was named an All-Star in 2003 and 2008. Kerry switched to a reliever role in 2008, recording 34 saves for the Cubs. He went to the Cleveland Indians in 2009, where he saved 20 games.
However, his best years were behind him. After one year with the Yankees in 2010, Kerry Wood returned to the Cubs for the 2011 and 2012 seasons as a reliever. He then retired from the game.
He ended up being the fastest pitcher to ever reach 1,000 strikeouts, doing so in just 134 games and 853 innings pitched.
While he had a solid career, it is his dominance that May afternoon in Chicago for which Wood will be best remembered.