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Today in Cubs history: Kerry Wood strikes out 16 Reds

This great Wood K game has been nearly forgotten.

Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Everyone remembers Kerry Wood’s 20-K game against the Astros May 6, 1998. I wrote it up on its 20th anniversary in 2018. It’s one of the most famous games in franchise history and arguably the most dominating pitching performance in the history of baseball.

Here’s one you might not remember.

After the 20-K game, Wood had six other games with double-figure strikeouts: Three of 11 and three of 13, and he entered this game in Cincinnati just one start removed from one of those 11-K games, in Houston August 16.

Wood allowed a single and walk in the first inning, then struck out a pair. He struck out two more in the second and then allowed a home run to Aaron Boone, but the Cubs had taken a 3-0 lead in the top of the inning, helped in part by a two-run double by Gary Gaetti, who was playing in just his seventh game as a Cub.

Sammy Sosa homered, his 52nd, in the fourth to give the Cubs a 4-1 lead. Wood struck out one in the third and two in the fourth for a total of seven K’s among his first 12 outs.

The Reds scored once off Wood in the fifth to make it 4-2, but Wood recorded all three outs that inning on strikeouts to give him 10 through five innings. A Gaetti sac fly in the sixth made it 5-2, and one more K from Wood in the bottom of the inning gave him 11 for the game.

Wood struck out all three Reds he faced in the seventh and now he’s got 14. If he could strike out the side in the eighth and ninth, he’d tie his MLB record.

It was not to be. Wood did strike out a pair in the eighth to give him 16, but at 133 pitches (85 strikes) — a number no MLB manager would let a pitcher throw in 2023 — Jim Riggleman lifted him after the Cubs put together a four-run ninth to lead 9-2. Wood allowed three hits and two runs (one earned) and walked three to go with the 16 strikeouts. This game and the 20-K game were the only two in Wood’s career in which he struck out more than 14.

Wood made just one more start that year, August 31 vs. the Reds at Wrigley, in which he struck out 10, before going on the then-disabled list with elbow trouble. He didn’t return until Game 3 of the division series against the Braves, where he threw five solid innings (one run allowed) as the Cubs lost the game 6-2, and the series.

The 133 pitches Wood threw in this game were the most he’d thrown in his career up to that time. He would have Tommy John surgery in early 1999 and miss the entire season, not returning until May 2000, and threw that many pitches only three other times, twice in 2003 and once in 2004.

Before you go off on Riggleman allowing Wood to throw that many pitches, remember that doing that was fairly common in that time. There were 88 starts made by MLB pitchers in 1998 of 133 pitches or more, with the most being 153 by Liván Hernandez of the Marlins. Was this pitcher abuse? Maybe. We obviously know more about that now than baseball folks did then, and pitchers are being treated with more care to help preserve arms.

The first 90 seconds of this video contain some of Wood’s 16 strikeouts on this sunny afternoon in Cincinnati:

Kerry Wood, I believe, had Hall of Fame talent that wound up ruined by elbow and shoulder injuries. But when he was on — what a joy to watch. His 16-K game against the Reds happened 25 years ago today, Wednesday, August 26, 1998.