Like many Cubs fans around my age, I first really started paying attention to the team when Sammy Sosa was depositing every other pitch into the Wrigley Field bleachers during the summer of 1998. But that’s not when I truly became a die-hard fan.
Instead, that transition happened when I was about 12 years old, during the Cubs’ magical 2003 season and playoff run. That year, as I’m sure we all remember a bit more fondly now that they’ve finally done it, the Cubs got tantalizingly close to the World Series, and everyone I knew was watching and talking about them.
And smack dab in the middle of all the drama was a 26-year-old All-Star by the name of Kerry Wood. Although Wood’s 2003 season was second to his rookie year in terms of overall WAR, it was arguably his most impressive all-around season. He made 32 starts, tossed 211.0 innings and posted the lowest ERA of his career (3.20). Needless to say, I was convinced: Kerry Wood was the man. He became a pillar of my Cubs fandom.
So when he threw his final big league pitch – a 77 MPH curve, which completed a three-pitch strikeout – less under a decade later, I got more than my fair share of goosebumps. I remember almost everything about that day and the feelings that rushed over me, as one of my all-time favorite Cubs had tossed his final pitch, while wearing a Cubs uniform, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
That always made me kind of sad. Because despite being there for everything from that All-Star run in 2003 to the final pitch of his career, I never had a real memory of his 20-strikeout game. Sure, I’ve since watched and dug into it a dozen times, but I was barely seven at the time, and Sammy Sosa was about the extent of my Cubs knowledge. [Brett: Pays to be old, kid! I watched it live, so I win.]
In any case, today is the 24th anniversary of that magical game. So whether you remember it fondly, or have only experienced it a thousand times since, let’s re-open this wonderful memory and enjoy one of the most dominating pitching performances of all-time:
Although Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game wasn’t the only 20 strikeout game in MLB history, there’s an argument to be made that his was the most impressive.
If you’re looking for more, The Chicago Tribune on the 20th anniversary offered the entire story of that afternoon, as remembered by the people who were there, with loads of interesting stories and facts, like “every Astro who came to the plate that afternoon struck out at least once. Jeff Bagwell, Jack Howell and Moises Alou each whiffed three times.” And how about this one? The losing pitcher that day, Shane Reynolds, tossed eight innings of one-run ball and struck out ten batters, himself. Talk about getting overshadowed.
Head over to the Tribune and re-live that day in great detail, with commentary from dozens of players, coaches, and managers who all have something unique to add. I’m sure no matter how much you remember, there’s more than just a bit that’ll surprise you.
There is also the behind-the-scenes documentary the Cubs released a couple years ago if you want to go really deep:
So happy anniversary, Kerry Wood. Magical game.