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Announcers knew early they were seeing something special
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

On this day 10 years ago, Cubs rookie Kerry Wood tied the major league record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game.


Associated Press file

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Published: 5/6/2008 12:16 AM

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CINCINNATI -- It didn't take long for the men broadcasting Cubs baseball on May 6, 1998 to figure out something special was happening at Wrigley Field.

Maybe it was after Kerry Wood struck out the first five Houston Astros he faced on his way to 20.

"Early," said Pat Hughes, the Cubs' radio voice on WGN. "He had unbelievable stuff. We were telling this story the other day. The first pitch of the game, Sandy Martinez could not even catch. It hit the umpire, Jerry Meals, in the face mask, and it was about 100 mph. You thought, 'Woo, what's he throwing today?' "

Hughes' partner, Ron Santo, who faced the likes of Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, also picked up on the magic early.

"I thought the first three innings, No. 1, he was throwing nothing but strikes," Santo said. "And the velocity was unbelievable. The hitters, you could tell, it was all tentative, not aggressive, because it was jumping on them."

Hughes recalls Santo being ultra-impressed.

"I remember Ron saying about the sixth or seventh inning, 'I've got goose bumps,'" Hughes said. "Of all the big-league games I've ever covered, and it's over 4,000, that's the best game I've ever seen pitched in the big leagues, and I've covered some no-hitters. But this was a better pitched game than any I've ever seen."

Chip Caray was in his first year as the Cubs' TV voice.

"Wood was simply overpowering that day," Caray wrote via e-mail. "Houston's lack of familiarity with him, coupled with the misty, dreary weather really helped. Plus, a 98-mph fastball and a slider that was exploding a foot across and down and away made him impossible to hit."

Another thing happened that day. As the strikeout total kept rising, people called friends and relatives to get them to turn on the radio or TV.

"I have had 30 baseball people say they were flipping back and forth or running errands that day," Caray said. "When they heard the K totals rise, they had to stop and watch.

"That game put Kerry on the map, and me, as well, in Chicago."

No. 20 for Wood came on a big bender to Derek Bell.

"Derek Bell, the last hitter, had no chance -- had none," Santo said. "I've never seen something like that."