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20 years later, 20-K gem still special to Wood

Record-setting outing an important milestone in righty's 14-year career
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

ST. LOUIS -- Sandy Martinez still has his glove and mask from the game. You probably have the scorecard tucked away someplace, or maybe one of the "K" cards. There's still debate as to whether Ricky Gutierrez had a hit or third baseman Kevin Orie should've been charged with an error.

Can you believe it's been 20 years since Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game?

ST. LOUIS -- Sandy Martinez still has his glove and mask from the game. You probably have the scorecard tucked away someplace, or maybe one of the "K" cards. There's still debate as to whether Ricky Gutierrez had a hit or third baseman Kevin Orie should've been charged with an error.

Can you believe it's been 20 years since Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game?

Wood struck out 20 Astros on May 6, 1998, at Wrigley Field in his fifth big league start -- setting a National League record and tying a Major League record. He would pitch a total of 14 seasons, although those years were interrupted by injuries -- including Tommy John surgery. He reached the playoffs with the Cubs and the Yankees, but that one drizzly day in May at Wrigley was special.

"I look back on [the 20-strikeout game] with great memories, and every year [when the anniversary] rolls around ... I get to see the highlights again," Wood said in an interview in late April. "I've sat down this year, watching a few innings at a time ... but I still have yet to watch the whole game in its entirety."

Wood, 40, said he planned to do that one day with his son, Justin.

Martinez -- now a Minor League instructor with the Nationals, based in the Dominican Republic -- called it the best game he ever caught. It was also the first time he'd ever caught Wood.

"I tried to get him to catch me all the time after that," Wood said, laughing. "I didn't have that much pull. I had 27 innings after that game. You can't call your catcher at that point."

No one questioned official scorer Don Friske's call on Gutierrez's hit, which happened in the third inning, until late in the game. Last year, Friske had a chance to talk to Wood for the first time about the game. Wood said he never doubted it was a hit.

When Friske was driving home after the 20-K game, he heard Ron Santo on a postgame radio show.

Video: The history behind Kerry Wood's 20 K's, 20 yrs later

"They asked him if he thought it was a no-hitter and [Santo] said something to the effect that, 'Whether it's a no-hitter or not, I don't think he gets 20 strikeouts if that ball's called an error because it changes the whole game,'" Friske said. "It'd be in the back of his mind that he's pitching a no-hitter and in the sixth, seventh, eighth innings. Who knows what would happen?

"I brought that up to Kerry and he said he never thought of that, and said it's probably true."

And when you saw Wood pump his arm after he struck out Derek Bell to end the game, it wasn't because of the strikeouts. Wood had no idea how many he had.

"The fist pump was for no walks," said Wood, who threw 122 pitches in his first complete game.

Wood finished 1998 with a 13-6 record and was the NL Rookie of the Year. Because of the injuries, he eventually transitioned from starter to closer -- totaling 34 saves in 2008 with the Cubs. Fans can cheer for Wood again on Tuesday night, when he throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Cubs play the Marlins at Wrigley.

"You can look at my career any way you want," Wood said. "You could look at it as a disappointment, that I didn't achieve what I was supposed to achieve. Or, you could look at it that I battled adversity and came back and grinded through and got 14 years out of a career that a lot of people and doctors said I wasn't going to get.

"Six years after I was pitching with a tear [in my shoulder], I got to close, I got to set up Mariano [Rivera], I got to pitch in the playoffs two more times," Wood said. "I had opportunities after I was told I was never going to throw again. I look at it as I had a great run early and learned a lot about myself. I made some adjustments and didn't quit and came back and was able to help teams win in a different way."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

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