#Shortstops: Kerry’s history
And with that, a rookie by the name of Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters in one game to set the National League record and tie the major league record for most strikeouts in a nine-inning game. Prior to Wood, this feat had only been done twice before – both times by Roger Clemens. Wood would also become only the second man to match his age in strikeouts. The first such occurrence of this being Bob Feller in 1936 when he struck out 17 as a member of the Cleveland Indians.
On May 6, 1998, Kerry Wood was making only the fifth start of his career. Heading into the game the Astros were 20-11 while the Cubs stood at 16-15. The Astros would finish the 1998 season as one of the top offensive clubs, having scored 5.4 runs per game while appearing at the top of the leaderboard in a host of other offensive categories. Despite the slow start, the Cubs would wind up making the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade.
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While Wood is largely remembered as the star of the game, Astros starter Shane Reynolds would not go down without a fight. Ultimately, Reynolds would pitch eight innings, giving up one earned run while striking out 10. Reynolds would finish his half of the first inning the same way Wood finished his – with three straight strikeouts.
The Cubs would break though in their half of the third inning. Mark Grace doubled to left and advanced to third on an error. Grace would come around to score on a sac fly by Henry Rodríguez. That one run would be all the run support that Wood would need.
On the day, Wood would have two or more strikeouts in every inning except for the third and the sixth. With one out in the ninth, Wood had a chance to set a new major league record of 21 strikeouts in a game. But with one out, Biggio would hit into a 6-3 groundout and spoil Wood’s chances of setting the major league record.
With two outs in the inning and rain falling, Bell once again stepped up to the plate. At the time, Bell had been 0-for-3 with a strikeout, fly out and pop out. The crowd was on its feet. Wood began the at bat by throwing a high fastball. Incredibly, Wood was still throwing in the upper 90s. This fastball was too hot for catcher Sandy Martínez to handle and he would drop to ball making the count 1-0. Wood threw Bell a breaking ball which he would swing through, bringing the count to 1-1. Bell checked his swing on another breaking ball. Martínez immediately appealed down to first where the first base ump lifted his fist, signaling strike two. With the count 1-2, Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone would say, “One more curveball and that should be about it.”
Nicholas DiGrispino was a 2022 library research intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development