Revisiting a dominant pitching performance

Among the headlines I ran into during my usual morning Internet run was this one:

Kerry Wood will retire after today’s game”

Wood is currently a member of the Chicago Cubs bullpen, and he will call it quits following today’s game against the crosstown rival White Sox.

It’s been a good career for Wood, who has pitched 14 seasons in the major leagues. But like many pro athletes, there will always be a sense of what could have been.

He opened his career as a starter with the Cubs, striking out 233 batters in his rookie season of 1998 in just 166.1 innings, all the while invoking comparisons to Nolan Ryan.

The peak of his career may have been his fifth major league game, when against the Houston Astros as a 21-year-old he tied the major league record of 20 strikeouts in a game.

Having grown up in this part of the country, I watched an awful lot of Chicago Cubs baseball on WGN as a kid.

I remember watching Wood’s performance on WGN that day and thinking, “This is the most dominant pitching performance in history.” Wood was that dominant. The Astros hitters looked silly at time flailing at pitches long after they had struck the mitt of catcher Sandy Martinez.

I’m sure some would argue that a perfect game would have to be the best-pitched game ever. And those people certainly have an argument, which is why I choose to go with “dominant” instead.

The Astros did get two baserunners on that day. Wood beaned Craig Biggio and gave up an infield single to Ricky Gutierrez that a lot of Cubs fans lobbied afterwards to have changed to an error, feeling that third baseman Kevin Orie should have made the play.

Wood went on to miss all of the 1999 season due to injury, but was dominant again shortly thereafter. He struck out a career-high and league-leading 266 batters in 2003, leading the Cubs to the NLCS. By 2006, he was transitioning to the bullpen after battling arm problems again.

Wood may not have gone on to becoming the next Nolan Ryan. But for one day in 1999, he was as good as any pitched has ever been. And that’s what I’ll remember about his career.