Another No-No for Nolan

Another No-No for Nolan

June 11, 1990

Before “The Rocket” and “The Big Unit,” there was “The Ryan Express.” And when it came to no-hitters, Nolan Ryan eclipsed them all.

The most durable flamethrower in baseball history, the ageless Ryan became the first man to post 5,000 career strikeouts when he fanned future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson on August 22, 1989. Less than a year later, Ryan again made history by holding Henderson’s A’s hitless — fifty-two years to the day after Johnny Vander Meer hurled the first of his two consecutive no-hitters.

At the age of 43 years, 4 months, and 12 days, Ryan became the oldest pitcher to ever hurl a no-hitter and the first to throw one with three teams (Angels, Astros, and Rangers) in three separate decades. Nine years earlier, as a member of the Houston Astros, Ryan had hurled his record-breaking fifth career no-no against the eventual World Champion Dodgers.

Holding the defending World Champion Athletics hitless in their own ballpark was no easy task for any pitcher, let alone a 43-year-old who was making only his second start after being disabled for three weeks with back woes. Led by the speedy Henderson and “Bash Brothers” Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, the A’s were headed for their third World Series in as many years. “I think we fit right in with the great teams,” Rickey Henderson had announced before the season, comparing his club to the A’s dynasty of the early 1970s. “That team won three World Series in a row. I feel this team can do that.”

But this game belonged to Texas. The Rangers got off to a quick start against Oakland’s Scott Sanderson, who surrendered a pair of two-run blasts to second baseman Julio Franco and a solo shot to catcher John Russell. Meanwhile, Ryan — working for the first time with Russell behind the plate — cut through Tony LaRussa‘s lineup like a hot knife through butter. “He’s amazing,” said a dazed LaRussa after Willie Randolph flied out to end the game. “There’s nobody like him.”

Without McGwire or Canseco in the lineup, the A’s managed just two walks (Walt Weiss and Mike Gallego paced the overmatched A’s with one apiece) against Ryan, who struck out 14. The key to his success was a well-spotted fastball; once he established his heater, the veteran hurler had little trouble tempting the A’s aggressive sluggers with circle changeups out of the strike zone. It was a simple — but devastating — strategy.

No-one was more surprised by the achievement than Ryan himself. “I was concerned with my back problems and I said, ‘Well, I’ll just go seven innings,'” Ryan told reporters after the game. “Then I got through seven and decided I’m not going to give in to it because I just needed six more outs.” Ignored by his teammates in the late innings, Ryan took the mound to a thunderous ovation by the Oakland fans in the ninth.

It was the 294th win of Ryan’s career; he would win his 300th later that year against the Milwaukee Brewers. The following season, Ryan threw yet another no-hitter, striking out 16 Blue Jays on May 1 at Arlington Stadium. Ironically, it was the same day that Rickey Henderson (who had angered Ryan by refusing to sign several balls after becoming strikeout victim #5,000) had eclipsed Lou Brock‘s all-time career mark with his 939th career stolen base.

By the time he retired in 1993, Ryan owned or shared 53 major-league records. Over the course of his 27-year career, he racked up 324 career wins, 5,714 strikeouts, and seven no-hitters.