In the mid-1990s I remember the late Harry Caray announcing the final scores of minor league games for the Cubs teams and he would often mention Kerry Wood. Even before he threw a pitch in the majors, Caray was a fan of Kerry. As a Cubs fan, I didn't follow the minor league teams that heavily, but I was excited about this young prospect, Kerry Wood, and couldn't wait to see him pitch in the big leagues. Little did I know that within a couple of years, he'd be in The Show.
Sadly, Harry Caray would not live to see Kerry Wood's debut or his phenomenal 20 Ks against the Houston Astros on May 6, 1998. Nor would Harry live to see the amazing Cubs season of that year when they made an improbable run at the wild-card. I doubt that they would have gotten there without Kerry Wood. At the time, Mark Grace said that his addition to the starting rotation was akin to acquiring a veteran for the stretch drive. Except that this was no veteran, but a 20-year old young man who was drawing comparisons to Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens.
No doubt many of us will be discussing our favorite Kerry Wood moments over the weekend. There are many of them for me with the 20-strikeout performance being at the top of the list. For me, it is the greatest pitching performance I have ever seen. No disrespect to Roger Clemens, but I'll take Wood's 20-strikeout game over both of Roger's. I'll even take it over Stephen Strasburg's 14-strikeout performance in his MLB debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Clemens faced the Mariners in 1986 and Tigers in 1996. Strasburg faced the Pirates in 2010. All of these teams were bad ballclubs. The 1998 Houston Astros was a great team with a powerful lineup featuring Jeff Bagwell, Moises Alou, Craig Biggio and they also won 102 games that year. And I still think that Wood was robbed of a no-hitter because Ricky Gutierrez's "hit" should have been ruled an error on Cubs third baseman Kevin Orie.
The next great Kerry Wood moment for me after that is Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS. Yes, the Cubs lost that game and it was a crushing blow to us fans. But it was a gutsy performance by Kerry Wood who kept battling back against the Marlins to the point where he even hit a game-tying two-run homerun in the bottom of the 2nd inning. After the game, Kerry took responsibility for the loss by saying "I choked". I always appreciated his candor and leadership, but he was wrong. He didn't choke. It just wasn't meant to be for the Cubs that year, but they would have never made it that far without Kerry Wood. He'll never make the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but as far as Chicago is concerned, he'll easily make it to the Cubs Hall of Fame and never be forgotten. So long, Kerry.