'Never seen anything like it': Tigers' Dave Clark still in awe of Kerry Wood's 20-K day

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dave Clark, the Tigers’ first-base coach, and Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell, teammates on the 1998 Houston Astros team, were both watching the replay of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game from May 6, 1998, which ESPN aired again on Saturday.

“We were texting back and forth,” Clark said, laughing. “We were doing like a play-by-play. I told him, at least I did put the ball in play one time.”

Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood

Clark, who was in his 13th and final big-league season, flew out to center field his first time up and then struck out in the fifth and eighth innings. Bagwell, who hit .304 with 34 home runs and 111 RBIs that year, struck out all three times.

Former Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, the Astros starting catcher, struck out twice in that game and took some of the ugliest swings, or half-swings, of his career — arguably.

“Bagwell texted, ‘Typical day for Brad,’” Clark said, laughing. “Just another day at the ballpark for Brad.”

Another Astros Hall of Famer, Craig Biggio, who was 0-for-3 with one punch-out, told this story to Alyson Footer of MLB.com.

“I was in the cab with Ausmus the next day, and the cab driver had talk radio on,” Biggio said. “The host says, ‘The Astros' hitters were so bad. I don't even know what the guy's name was. He swung at a curveball that hit the grass — not even the dirt.’

“I said to Brad, ‘That was you, right?’

Wood, whose fastball was registering in the upper-90s all day, buckled Bagwell twice with breaking balls in the fourth inning, which should’ve given Clark a heads-up before his at-bat in the fifth. Clark had hit a fastball just about to the warning track in center his first time up.

But when he came up in the fifth, Wood threw him three straight late-breaking curveballs. Clark was frozen on all three.

“We never even knew he had a curveball,” Clark said. “He was so filthy that day. We didn’t have much in the way of scouting reports back then…Oh my goodness, that breaking ball. It was straight and the next thing you know it breaks and you’re like, ‘Where did that baseball go?’”

It was just Wood’s fifth career start. But Clark had seen him the year before. He had the best year of his career with the Cubs in 1997, hitting .301 with a .386 on-base average and a 120 OPS-plus.

“I got a chance to see him over at minor-league camp that spring,” Clark said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ And then when I got back over there I told them, ‘You guys have something really special down in the minor leagues.’”

Clark gave Wood a battle in the eighth inning. He worked the count full, laying off a couple of close pitches.

“It was a 3-2 count and I was like, ‘OK, he’s got to throw a heater, right?” Clark said.

Nope. Wood threw an off-speed pitch.

“It was a slider or a change-up, whatever it was,” Clark said. “He pulled the string on it and I was so far in front of it. I just said, ‘OK, here we go.’”

Right back to the dugout.

Tigers first base coach Dave Clark struck out twice as a member of Astros against the Cubs' Kerry Wood on May 6, 1998.

“On that day, that particular day, I had never in my life seen anything like that,” Clark said. “I had not seen anything like it before or since, and I’ve seen no-hitters before. But in those, we hit a few balls hard. We never hit the ball hard against Kerry Wood that day.

“I was coaching with the Astros when Matt Cain threw a perfect game (June 13, 2012) and we even had some good at-bats against him. But against Kerry Wood that day, our at-bats were some of the worst I’ve seen by a big-league club. And we were a good-hitting team. He just made us look real bad that day.”

It’s fun to think about Bagwell and Clark, on their respective couches 22 years later, still commiserating, still getting chafed at some of the calls umpire Jerry Meals made that day.

“He texted, ‘I can’t believe he called that a strike,’” Clark said. “Yeah man, he called it a strike.”

Clark, besides watching old baseball games, has been trying to stay busy during this COVID-19 pandemic — reading, taking power walks with his wife, working out as best he can.

“We’re doing the right thing by not playing baseball,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what, the last time I was home in March was 1980, my senior year in high school. I played college ball and then I’ve been in pro ball every season since.

“It’s different.”


Twitter: @cmccosky