Nolan Ryan is widely considered one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time, with a career spanning over four decades in the major leagues. During that time, he racked up numerous pitching records many of which still stand to this day. Today we look back at one of his greatest pitching performances, because on this day May 1, 1991 Nolan Ryan threw his 7th and final no hitter of his career, cementing himself as one of the all time greats of the game.
On May 1 1991, Nolan Ryan became the oldest pitcher in history, at 44 years old, to pitch a no hitter. Ryan, known for throwing his fastballs at over 100 miles per hour was nicknamed the Ryan express, but before all of that he started his career with the New York Mets in 1966 mostly as a relief pitcher and as a spot starter. He won his only career World Series as a member of the 1969 miracle Mets and was later traded to the California Angels at the end of 1971.
Looking back at Nolan Ryan’s seven career no hitters, he threw his first two only two months apart from each other on May 15 and July 15 1973. His third through sixth no-hitters came in 1974, ‘75, ‘81, and 1990. At that time he broke Cy Young’s record as the oldest pitcher to throw a no hitter (Cy Young who was 41 years old, and Ryan was 43 years old). A year later on May 1 1991, Ryan broke his own record by throwing his 7th no hitter at the age of 44. On top of that, he actually had five other games where he took no hitters into the 9th inning before being broken up. All in all, he had 12 one hit complete games in his career.
Before the start of his final no hitter, he was facing one the best teams in baseball at the time in the Toronto Blue Jays, seen here being introduced with a prision graphic for some reason. Going into the game the Blue Jays had the league’s best hitting average at .276.
Though he was 44 years old, Nolan Ryan was a very effective pitcher even into his 40’s. He pitched over 200 innings every season after turning 40 years old, and reached double digit wins in all but one season. He even had a 300 strikeout season in 1989 at the age of 42.
Prior to the start, Ryan was pitching on a short rest of four days, and he had been dealing with a sore back. He reportedly came to Rangers pitching coach Tom House, (seen here on a trading card depicting one of the most exciting parts of a baseball game… a warmup mound visit…) and Ryan told him, “My back hurts, my heel hurts and I’ve been pounding Advil all day. I don’t feel good. I feel old today. Watch me.” Working through pain, Ryan took the field to begin his warmups.
After throwing a few pitches in the first inning, Ryan began to feel much stronger and struck out the lead off hitter Devon White. He would then get Joe Carter out to end the first inning, but not before giving up his first walk.
As the game progressed, Ryan became increasingly locked in and started mixing in his curve balls striking out the side in the second inning. The Rangers would score 3 runs in the third inning, in part thanks to Ruben Sierra’s 2 run home run. Those would be only runs scored in the game by both teams.
By mid game, Ryan was on cruise control and continued to strike out the Blue Jays lineup with little difficulty. The only real trouble came in the sixth inning, when Manny Lee hit a weak fly ball into centerfield. With how the outfielders were positioned it seemed like it might fall in, but the no hitter was kept alive by Gary Peettis speed, making an amazing catch.
Throughout the seventh, and eighth innings Ryan continued to strike out hitters left and right racking up 13 strikeouts. At the end of the ninth inning, Ryan faced his final batter, all-star Roberto Alomar, after getting two easy outs. He threw his 122nd pitch of the night, striking out Alomar and clinching his 7th no hitter of his career and the most no hitters thrown by a single player in MLB history.
Ryan finished the game with 16 strikes out, and struck out at least one batter every inning and only walked two, as The Rangers won the game 3-0. This was his 305th career win, and the 26th time that he struck out at least 15 batters in a game.
After the game Ryan stated, “It was the most rewarding no-hitter of them all because it came in front of my fans on Arlington Appreciation Night, my career is complete now. I got one for the fans in Arlington.”
The Texas Rangers who, at that time were owned by future president George W Bush, would go on to finish third in the American League west that season (behind the eventual World Series winners the Minnesota Twins).
The Toronto Blue Jays went on to win the American League East with 91 wins and 71 losses. They would fall to the Minnesota Twins in the American League Championship Series in five games.
Nolan Ryan would finish his career with 5,714 strike outs, by far the most in MLB history. At the time of recording this video, the next closest pitcher in strikeouts is Randy Johnson with 4,875. Ryan set other records as well, such as striking out 10 or more batters 209 times in his career.
When he retired in 1993 at the age of 45, he did so with 324 wins and a 3.19 ERA. He made the All Star team 8 times, and led the league in strikeouts 11 times (with six of those having more than 300 strikeouts in a season).
He also has his jersey number retired by the Angels, Astros and Rangers and is the only player other than Jackie Robinson to have his number retired by at least three different teams. In 1999, Nolan Ryan was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a first ballot hall of famer with 98% of the vote. He also became the first Texas Rangers player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, with Ryan stating that he chose to wear a Rangers hat on his plaque to reflect his Texas heritage, as well as the fact that many of his final career milestones were achieved as a member of the Rangers.
So that about does it for this day in Sports History, what did you guys think about Nolan Ryan’s 7th no hitter? Where do you place him as one of the greatest pitchers of all time? Share your thoughts below! While you’re there let me know what sports history topics you’d like to see covered next?
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