By Mark Grote–
(CBS) There was a “take-that” fist pump that catapulted from Chicago right-hander Kerry Wood’s entire being after striking out Houston’s Derek Bell on May 6, 1998. You may be surprised to learn that it had little to do with the fact that it was Wood’s 20th punchout of a historic performance that tied Roger Clemens’ single-game MLB strikeout record and which Cubs radio play-by-play man Pat Hughes refers to as the best-pitched game he has ever seen in the big leagues. (Hughes has called close to 6.000 games.)
“I knew I had a bunch of strikeouts, but it was the first game ever where I didn’t walk anyone,” Wood said. “All I ever heard in the minor leagues was, ‘He walks too many guys,’ so my fist pump at the end was because I was so proud that I went nine innings and didn’t walk a single batter.”
On that day, Wood had a roaring fastball with late movement and a curveball that would embarrass a whiffle ball.
“I look back at some of the pitches I was making and say, ‘Where did it go?’ ‘How did it go away so fast?’” Wood wondered aloud.
Now done with his playing career, Wood’s also completely comfortable in admitting that he had everything in his favor that day.
“There were maybe five strike-three calls (by home plate umpire Jerry Meals) that probably would not be called strikes today, but when you are around the zone, you tend to get those calls,” Wood said.
Wood’s around Wrigley Field a lot these days, and he took in last weekend’s intense series against St. Louis, prompting him to reminisce about a September 2003 series against the Cardinals in which Wood and the Cubs won four out of five.
“It helped vault us to a division title and really just drown the Cardinals the rest of the year,” Wood said.
It doesn’t appear that the Cubs will catch the Cardinals for the NL Central crown this year, as St. Louis is six games clear of Chicago, but it’s possible that the two teams will meet for the first time ever in the postseason.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Wood said.
Mark Grote is the Cubs pregame and postgame host on WBBM. Follow him on Twitter@markgrotesports.