Kerry Wood was just playing catch. That's how it seemed, anyway.
In just the fifth start of his major-league career, his pitches were all but untouchable, dipping through the strike zone at unreachable angles or roaring past the bats of the Houston Astros at speeds up to 100 mph.
"I couldn't imagine ever doing this, to tell you the truth," Wood said after tying the major-league record with 20 strikeouts Wednesday, pitching a one-hitter to lead the Chicago Cubs over the Astros 2-0.
"It's going to be special to strike out that many, regardless of who has done it," he said. "It hasn't settled in, and I'm still in awe a little bit."
"That's the greatest thrill anyone could be associated with," Wood said. "Roger is a great pitcher and he's definitely established himself. I talked to him on the phone this past off-season."
Clemens and Nolan Ryan, whose No. 34 Wood wears on his back, are fellow Texans and the pitchers who have most inspired Wood. But on Wednesday, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound rookie was in a league of his own.
"He deserved it. I'll go up there and tell them to give me an error," said Orie, who stretched for the ball but didn't dive.
With the fans chanting "Kerry, Kerry" in the last inning, Wood fanned pinch-hitter Billy Spiers on a 1-2 pitch leading off for his seventh straight strikeout. Craig Biggio then grounded to shortstop on a 1-0 pitch. Wood tied the record by fanning Derek Bell on a 1-2 pitch and was mobbed by his teammates.
"I had no idea how many I had going into the last three innings. After the first inning, I knew I had three and I lost track after that," Wood said, citing his slider as his main strikeout pitch.
"I wasn't really worried about the strikeouts, I knew it was getting up there. It was just one of those days where every thing you throw is crossing th plate. It just felt like I was playing catch."
|Kerry Wood||Chicago (NL)||5/06/98|
|Bill Gullickson||Montreal (NL)||9/10/80|
|Hideo Nomo||Los Angeles (NL)||6/14/95|
|Dwight Gooden||New York (NL)||9/12/84|
|Dwight Gooden||New York (NL)||9/17/84|
|Roger Clemens||Boston (AL)||8/21/84|
|Most strikeouts all-time (9-inning game)|
Wood said he didn't have good stuff warming up. And he was working with catcher Sandy Martinez for the first time, making his performance even more remarkable.
"We were on the same page. Every sign he put down I already had the grip in my glove," Wood said. "It felt like we could have gone out there with no signals."
Wood struck out the side in the first, fifth, seventh and eighth innings, and fanned two each in the second, fourth and ninth, and one each in the third and the sixth.
"I'm going to give most of the credit to the fan," Wood said. "They were in it the whole game. My adrenaline was racing. Definitely I think that is what got me through late in the game. I was worn out, I was tired."
After the game, he was handed the lineup card by Cubs coach Billy Williams, a Hall of Famer.
In his first complete game in the majors, Wood fanned the Astros' 3-4-5 hitters -- Jeff Bagwell, Jack Howell and Moises Alou -- in all three of their at-bats. He walked none but hit Biggio with a pitch.
"It's not fair to compare him to Nolan," Biggio said. "The kid's got good stuff, but leave comparisons alone. Today was his day. He had everything working. Plus it was the first time we faced him."
Astros manager Larry Dierker, a former major league pitcher, did make a comparison.
"He reminded me of the first time I saw Ryan," Dierker said. "By the time the ball left his hand, it was in the mitt. Only that time, Ryan was wild. This kid wasn't wild."
Wood broke the NL record of 19 strikeouts in a nine-inning game, held by Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver and David Cone.
"It's the best game I've ever seen pitched. I'm just proud to have been there to watch it," Cubs manager Jim Riggleman said.
"That's without a doubt the best performance I've ever seen," echoed Cubs first baseman Mark Grace.
Wood, who struck out every batter at least once, broke the previous rookie record of 18, set by Bill Gullickson against the Cubs on Sept. 10, 1980.
The major-league record for an extra-inning game in 21 by Tom Cheney for Washington against Baltimore in a 16-inning game on Sept. 12, 1962.
Shane Reynolds (2-3) pitched a eight-hitter and struck out 10, Houston's season high.
It rained off and on during the last three innings.
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