I listen to Nolan Ryan talk about pitching, and I understand. He emphasizes control, says location is more important than speed, that more and more often he goes to breaking balls in key situations. Even for a rifle arm like Ryan, this makes sense. It gives the hitters more variables to consider, and places the game more in the hands of the pitcher. The best pitchers—the Ryans, the Seavers—leave as little as possible to chance and the skills or shortcomings of other men.
Twenty years ago I pitched a no-hitter, the only one of my life. I was nine. There was an error, and I walked a couple of batters, but the no-hitter was legitimate. What made the game remarkable was that the opposing pitcher also allowed no hits. He struck me out three times; to this day I'm irritated I didn't think to bunt. We won, 1-0, on a walk, a wild pitch, a stolen base and a throwing error.
The last inning of the game is one of my fondest memories. There was real tension. Fathers were whispering in the stands. Kids had wandered over from other games to watch. The final batter was one of those ridiculously tiny kids that every Little League team has. He was the one who'd gotten on base on the error, a dribbler that had slipped through the second baseman's legs. This time the kid knocked one right back to the box, a solid shot, one of those that you snag by instinct. I threw him out.
Bedlam. My teammates all tried to slap me on the back at once. It hurt. I'd never been happier.
Later, after the field had been cleared and the umpire was liming the baselines for the next game, the little kid who'd made the last out came over to me. I was standing behind the batting cage. He was eating ice cream.
"Hey," he said. "That wasn't a no-hitter. My shot was a hit."
"You were out."
"No, dope. The other one."
"That was an error."
"Uh-uh," he said. "Ask my father. He put it down in the book as a hit."