Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
I thought I'd caught the Tribune's Paul Sullivan committing illogic in his account Tuesday of Kerry Wood's 20K performance against Houston ten years ago to the day. Instead, I uncovered a paradox.
No pitcher has ever struck out more batters in a game than Wood struck out that rainy afternoon in Wrigley Field. Sullivan wrote: "If not for Kevin Orie's failure to glove a Ricky Gutierrez grounder leading off the third, which was ruled a hit, Wood might have had a no-hitter to boot." Yes, I thought when I read that, but he probably wouldn't have had 20 strikeouts. Houston had just 27 outs coming to it, and if Gutierrez had grounded out Wood would have had one less opportunity to fan a batter.
Fortunately, the Tribune spread on Wood's immortal game included a play-by-play. Studying it showed me how wrong I was. Wood entered the third inning with five strikeouts under his belt. Here's what happened in the third: "Gutierrez singled off Orie's glove. Ausmus struck out. Reynolds sacrificed Gutierrez to second. Gutierrez to third on Wood balk. Biggio grounded out."
If Gutierrez had been retired before Brad Ausmus struck out, Shane Reynolds, the Astros pitcher, would have come to bat with the bases empty. He almost certainly wouldn't have been bunting. In 1998 Reynolds was a .159 hitter who had 82 at-bats and struck out 39 times. He'd bat against Wood one other time in this game, in the sixth inning, and Wood would fan him. Chances seem pretty good to me that if he'd been swinging away in the third Wood would have fanned him that time too. If the rest of the game had played out the same way, with Wood picking up 14 more strikeouts, he'd have finished the game with 21.
And a no-hitter.