Ryan's sense of pride is equally keen. Before the Sunday, June 1 afternoon game with Baltimore he asked Ellie Rodriguez, who had not played in almost a month, if he would be catching that day. "Yes, I am," said Rodriguez, who enjoys catching Ryan, even though one of his fastballs once dented a religious medal hanging on his chest. "Well," said Ryan, "I'll be throwing these." And he handed Rodriguez a tiny rubber ball. "Funny thing," said Rodriguez after the game, "he wasn't kidding."
It was one of those days when Ryan had it all—rhythm, leg thrust, wrist snap; when the fastball missed, the curve was unerring. And mixed with those pitches was a changeup that had the Orioles lunging futilely at anticipated hummers. The weak-hitting Angels scored only one run, but it was enough, as Ryan dominated the Oriole batting order. When he survived a seventh inning in which two runners reached base on a walk and an error, the 18,492 at Anaheim Stadium roared in appreciation. Fourth no-hitter?
In the ninth Ryan jogged to the mound, bringing the fans to their feet. They would cheer every pitch in this inning. Al Bumbry, who had struck out his first three times at bat, flew out to left field. Tommy Davis, long a Ryan nemesis, bounced out to second after running the count to 3 and 2. Bobby Grich took a curveball for a called strike, then fouled off a fastball. With the count 2 and 2, Grich stood ready for "the heat." Two years ago, perhaps even a year ago, Ryan would have given it to him. But the older and wiser Ryan of 1975 gambled on an off-speed pitch. As Grich looked on incredulously, a changeup floated in for a called third strike. A fourth no-hitter.
Ryan was embraced by his teammates and kissed by his wife, who was radiant in red. The stadium organist played The Eyes of Texas
Ryan sat in the clubhouse afterward, politely answering the customary no-hit inquiries—"When did you start thinking about it?" "Did anybody say anything?"—his green-gray eyes calm and smiling above black sun smudges. Ryan was asked to compare his no-hitters, a privilege few pitchers can enjoy. He had not been as overpowering in this one as in some of the others, he suggested matter-of-factly, but then again, nobody hit the ball particularly hard. George Goodale, an Angels front-office man who collects Ryan statistics, offered his expert opinion that this was the easiest of all the Ryan no-nos. The Angels' President Red Patterson, a former Dodger publicity director, and Drysdale were in charge of the Koufax questions.
"Actually," said Patterson, "Nolan is more like Feller than Koufax. The fastball and the control are about the same, although I think Nolan may even have a better curve."
"Sandy's fastball may have moved more," said Drysdale, weighing the familiar question carefully. Drysdale is a man torn by considerations of loyalty. Koufax was his teammate; Ryan pitches for the team he pushes on the air. He still has the scowl that terrified hitters, only now he uses it to express conflicting thoughts. "Both had the big fastball and the curve, but they're hard to compare at this stage. Sandy generated a lot of excitement at Dodger Stadium and so would Nolan if he were pitching there, but people are coming around to him here now. Here and everywhere."
Last Friday 29,513 came around to Anaheim Stadium to see Ryan try to make it two no-hitters in a row. It was not a bad try—a two-hitter against Milwaukee for his 10th victory.
In eight seasons Ryan has assured himself a bright, particular place in baseball history. The only strikeout record that may elude him is Johnson's ponderous career total of 3,508. But is he really faster than Johnson or Feller or Koufax? Or Vance or Mungo or Score? Or Dean or Grove? No one will ever know, of course. Fireballers are too enshrouded in legend. And as the years pass, they seem to throw harder and harder.