•Guile: Though his cheese twice broke the 100-mph barrier, Wood's curveball left the more indelible impression. "It was just unbelievable the way they were swinging and missing," says Martinez. "I've never seen balls break like that."
Wood, with a head more level than the Texas prairie, survived a postgame siege by the media (after which he described his condition as "pressed out") and left the historical assessment to the grown-ups. Still a month shy of being able to celebrate his success on Rush Street, he grabbed dinner at a Bennigan's and had a "normal, boring night" at his downtown apartment, throwing a Matchbox 20 CD on his stereo and watching the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets playoff game with his teammate Terry Adams. "I had to take my phone off the hook because my mom and dad were calling me so much," he said. The next morning he got a congratulatory call from his idol, Clemens, who had watched the game at his hotel in Anaheim. "The whole thing has just been wild," says Wood.
Perhaps so, but this magnum opus wasn't wholly unexpected. The Cubs, who took Wood with the fourth pick of the 1995 draft, always believed he had a golden arm. Wrigley Field locker room attendants claim that since Wood was called up from Triple A Iowa in April, he has received as much fan mail as the Cubs' two heretofore most popular players, Sammy Sosa and Mark Grace. "He's the genuine article," says Grace. "You don't want to put too much pressure on the kid, but people ought to come from miles around to see Kerry pitch."
Wood did nothing to diminish the fanfare in his next outing. On Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks—the most prolific whiffers in the majors—he struck out 13 in seven innings while improving his record to 4-2. His two-game total of 33 K's was a major league record, breaking the mark of 32 held by a pretty fair trio: Ryan, Dwight Gooden and Randy Johnson.
Before his 20-strikeout game against the Astros, Wood was already turning heads—those of opposing hitters. "He's something special," said St. Louis Cardinals strongman Mark McGwire after going 0 for 3 against Wood on May 1, striking out twice and popping up a 100-mph heater. "You hear about the fastball and you're kind of prepared for that, but you don't appreciate his curveball until you see it. My first at bat, he threw me one, and I was like, Whoa...O.K."
Wood comes by his curveball honestly. His father, Garry, a quality-control operator for a printing company, taught Kerry and his older brother, Donny, the grip five years ago during one of their countless games of catch in the backyard. A few days later Kerry was throwing the pitch in high school games. Call it a steep learning curve. "Anything baseball related, Kerry picks up real fast," says Garry. "I think at about age five Kerry knew he wanted to be a big leaguer."
Kerry also seems to have that healthy bit of badass that most top pitchers have. Twice this season batters who have asked the home plate umpire to check the ball have been plunked by Wood's subsequent pitch. You think there's something on the ball? Here, get a close-up look. "What I like is that he's got a quiet little mean streak in him," says Blauser.
By the time Wood was a senior at Grand Prairie (Texas) High, there were enough speed guns in the stands to monitor traffic on 1-45. "It was normal for 40 scouts to be at his games," says Mike McGilvray, who coached Wood at Grand Prairie. "Luckily, he's always been a mature kid who handles pressure real well." After Wood finished his senior year 14-0, with an 0.77 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 81 innings, he was tapped by the Cubs and rewarded with a $1,265 million signing bonus. The weekend after the draft, in a state playoff series, Wood threw a 146-pitch two-hitter to win the opener of a doubleheader. Then, on 30 minutes' rest, he came back to pitch the nightcap, a 16-4 victory that he cemented by belting a grand slam.
Knowing that for every Roger Clemens to come out of the Lone Star State there are a dozen David Clydes, the Cubs took their time promoting Wood. Even though he averaged nearly 1½ strikeouts per inning in Triple A last year, he didn't make Chicago's Opening Day roster. "When a young player has that kind of talent, there's always the temptation to rush things," says general manager Ed Lynch of the Cubs, a franchise that hasn't had a pitcher strike out 200 batters in a season since Ferguson Jenkins in 1971. "Even now, we're a little nervous that we brought him along too quickly. But I think he gained a lot from spending three years in our system and working on his control."
In the minors Wood also developed his habit of talking to his mom, Terry, an insurance underwriter, before each start. The superstitious Kerry still hasn't quite forgiven Terry for neglecting to call him before his third major league start, against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 24. He didn't make it through the second inning, surrendering seven runs, all of them earned, including a grand slam by catcher Mike Piazza. Before last week's game Terry called Kerry at 7:30 in the morning to wish him well. "I think I woke him up," she says. "At least he can't say I didn't call."