Roberto Alomar Swung through the 2-2 fastball, and in that one fell swoop on the night of May 1, the Texas Rangers beat the Toronto Blue Jays 3-0, 44-year-old Nolan Ryan had his seventh no-hitter, 33,439 fans at Arlington Appreciation Night roared their appreciation, Rickey Henderson was upstaged, and a nation smiled. Ryan smiled, too, and then made sure he thanked his catcher, Mike Stanley (right), before his teammates mobbed him.
So now Ryan has as many no-hitters as there are seas, heavens, wonders of the world, days of the week, sacraments, deadly sins and innings before you stretch. The number of mind-boggling facts about his masterpiece far exceeds seven. Alomar, for instance, was just five years old when his father, Sandy, played second base behind Ryan in Ryan's first no-hitter. The centerfielder in that game was Bobby Valentine, who is now Ryan's manager in Texas. Ryan has more nine-inning no-hitters than all the rest of the starting pitchers now on active major league rosters combined (they have six). No two pitchers in baseball history can pool their no-hit totals and top Ryan. He is now the oldest (44) and second oldest (43) man to pitch a no-hitter; Cy Young (41) is a distant third. In addition to the seven no-hitters, Ryan has taken five other possible no-hitters into the ninth before they were broken up—all with one out. His best fastball last Wednesday night was clocked at 96 mph....
As amazing as the numbers are, the truly inspiring thing about Ryan's performance last week was his conduct. He was working on four days' rest, one less than usual, because he felt he needed the work, and it allowed him to make a start on Arlington Appreciation Night. His back and his right heel were bothering him, so much so that before the game he told pitching coach Tom House, "I feel old today," but he went ahead and pitched anyway. Some six hours after Henderson had declared himself the greatest base stealer of all time upon swiping No. 939, Ryan aw-shucksed his own achievement. "This is the one I wanted most because it was in front of the fans," he said. "The fans have been so supportive of me, and it was really great to pitch one in front of them." And then he celebrated by working out for a half hour on a stationary bike.
Ryan has always had that generosity of spirit. He even seems to have brought it to bear when it came to apportioning the distinction of catching his no-nos. His seven no-hitters have come with seven different catchers, most of whom have had forgettable careers: Jeff Torborg, Art Kusnyer, Tom Egan and Ellie Rodriguez of the California Angels; Alan Ashby of the Houston Astros; and John Russell and Stanley of the Rangers. Those seven had a combined batting average of .234 when this season began. None of the seven had more than 255 at bats during the season of the no-hitter. It does seem to speak well of Ryan that he has bestowed these moments of greatness on people who might otherwise never have had a day in the sun. As Stanley said after No. 7, "When my career is over, nobody is going to remember me. At least now I'll have something. I'll remember this for the rest of my life."
They'll all remember.
May 15, 1973: Angels 3, Royals 0
Torborg, now the Chicago White Sox manager, was hardly expecting a no-hitter. In Ryan's previous start, against the White Sox, he had lasted just 17 pitches. "It was our first trip into the new ballpark in Kansas City," Torborg says. "Nolan did not have exceptional stuff that night-real good, mind you, but not exceptional for him. Jack McKeon was managing the Royals, and he tried to rattle Nolan by protesting the way he tapped the rubber with his right foot—not maintaining contact. But he withdrew the protest after the game.
"We actually talked about the no-hitter during the game. I told Nolan how we had to approach this thing. We still had to win the game. Nolan was focused. He's always been so intent." There were two close calls in the game. In the eighth, shortstop Rudy Meoli made an over-the-shoulder catch in shallow left of a ball hit by Gail Hopkins, and with two outs in the ninth, Ken Berry, inserted in rightfield that inning for defense, leaped up at the wall to catch a ball hit by Amos Otis. "I remember that last out fairly vividly," Torborg says. "I've even got a montage of the out on my wall at home: Nolan throwing and Otis hitting, with the scoreboard in the background."
Torborg had a penchant for these great occasions, having caught, as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the perfect game by Sandy Koufax and a no-hitter by Bill Singer. "After Nolan's first no-hitter, some people said, 'You really helped Ryan,' " says Torborg. "Of course, you'd like to get credit, but now that he's done it with seven different catchers, I think my cover is blown."
July 15, 1973: Angels 6, Tigers 0