I’ll just say this right away: I didn’t watch Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game against the Houston Astros on May 6, 1998. Yet after 18 years, it still holds an important place in my memory.
First of all, I was 13 years old and it was a school day, so I couldn’t have been able to watch or listen to the game anyway. But my interest in the Cubs wasn’t very strong at that point. I had become a fan a few years earlier, but between the Cubs being bad and all the other obligations that come with being a teenager, I was losing interest. But this game caught my attention and started bringing me back.
For those who did watch the game – or even if you heard about it afterwards – you know that Wood had one of the most dominating pitching performances of all time: zero walks, one hit, and a record-tying 20 strikeouts against the Astros, who featured one of the game’s most dynamic lineups during baseball’s most prolific offensive era. After that day, I paid attention every time this 20-year-old rookie pitched, whether I could watch the game or I had to read about it in the newspaper afterwards.
Of course, there were other story lines in that magical 1998 season: The death of Harry Caray and all the celebrity versions of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, Sammy Sosa’s home run tear, and the team beating the Giants in a Wild Card tiebreaking game to reach the postseason for the first time in nine years. That 1998 team brought me back into the fold and turned me into the fan that I am today.
And it all started with that game on an otherwise ho-hum rainy day in May at Wrigley Field in 1998. Wood had a decent career and was an important part of the 2003 and 2008 playoff teams, the former as a starter and the latter as a closer. Yet injuries derailed his career, and he never fully lived up to potential. As great as that 20 strikeout game was, unfortunately one of his greatest moments came at the beginning of his career.
Time will tell what Wood’s legacy in Chicago Cubs history will be. For me, he captured my imagination as a 13-year-old and helped to turn me into a diehard fan. That’s what his career – and his 20 strikeout game – mean to me.