May 8, 1998
By Greg Shea
After it was over, the kid seemed a little too nonchalant — like he’d just ridden the world’s fastest roller coaster and didn’t know it.
Was that the best ever? Could the drop in his curveball be more death-defying? Could he throw faster? Should batters be required to wear seat belts?
After tying a major league record by striking out 20 batters Wednesday, Kerry Wood didn’t seem to know. He was almost scared to ask. So was the rest of the world.
At 20 years old, you don’t know much. Experience comes from a lifetime full of failure. At 20, you think everything works according to plan. At 30, you know better. As the years roll on, you realize how precious those few “big” moments in your life really were. And you wish you’d only grasped that realization at the time.
He didn’t know how to celebrate — instead he was the awkward kid at a high school dance looking desperately for a punch bowl. He politely accepted the congratulations of his team, a few pats on the back and high-fives. He didn’t jump up and down, fall on his knees and cry or do anything a normal human would after pitching the greatest game in baseball history.
Yes, you read that right. The greatest game ever pitched. Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
Seems silly doesn’t it? Surely, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax or someone had a better game than this?
According to a statistic called “game score” created by Bill James in his 1988 Baseball Abstract, Wood’s performance ranks as the best nine-inning game of all time. All time, folks.
The game score works like this:
Start with the number 50, add one point for each hitter retired, add two points for each inning beyond the fourth, add one point for each strikeout, subtract one point for each walk, subtract two points for each hit, subtract four points for each earned run and subtract two points for each unearned run.
Wood allowed one hit (we’ll get to that later), struck out 20 batters, hit one batter and walked none. His game score of 105 ranks better than Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965, which scored a mere 101. Nolan Ryan’s no-hitter with 16 strikeouts in 1991? Also, only a 101 game score. As far as research to this point can tell, Wood’s numbers are higher than any nine-inning game in history.
And he hadn’t a clue.
“I had no idea what I had going up into the last three innings,” Wood said. “After the first inning I knew I had three (strikeouts), but I lost track after that. I wasn’t real worried about getting strikeouts.”
He started out by striking out the first five batters of the game, fanned five batters in a row from in the fourth and fifth innings and finished with eight whiffs over the last nine batters.
In the fifth, Wood struck out Moises Alou, Dave Clark and Ricky Gutierrez on nine pitches — without a swing. File that one away in a time capsule, you’ll never see it again.
He threw curveballs on such odd counts, that Houston’s batters looked like beginners at a dance studio — never knowing exactly when they should venture out onto the floor. Once they did, the pace of Wood’s fastball left them discouraged and in no mood to tango.
Of course, if Kevin Orie scoops up a Ricky Gutierrez grounder in the third, there would be no question this was the greatest game ever. You kidding me? A no-hitter with 20 strikeouts? Cubs manager Jim Riggleman was still impressed.
“It’s the best game I’ve ever seen pitched,” Riggleman said.
“It was the most dominating pitching performance I’ve ever seen,” first baseman Mark Grace said. “And it’s the most dominating pitching performance YOU’VE ever seen.”
Take Gracie’s word for it, it was one for the ages.
Copyright Real Fans, Inc., 1998.