Monday, March 10, 2008

By Ricardo Ramos, Contributor

When Nolan Ryan stepped on the mount at Royals Stadium on May 15, 1973, none of the 12,205 in attendance could have had any clue they were about to witness history. Ryan, after all, was coming off a terrible start in which he gave up five runs to the White Sox, failing to get out of the first inning (0.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER).

His next start, however, could not have been any different. On this night, Ryan was special, recording the first of his seven career no-hitters.

Before he threw his first pitch, Ryan’s teammates had already staked him to a 2-0 lead. He then started off his night by striking out the side in the bottom of the first. Ryan would strike out at least one Royals hitter per inning, save for the fifth, fanning a dozen altogether.

Ryan, who despite his strikeout dominance, was always capable of painting himself into a corner with bases on balls, avoided trouble all night, spreading his three walks out over the first, third and eighth innings. In fact, Ryan was so overpowering that third baseman Al Gallagher, left fielder Vada Pinson and shortstop Rudy Meoli fielded only two balls between the three of them, both by Meoli.

With the Angels leading, 3-0, Ryan faced the top of the Kansas City order in the ninth. Shortstop Freddie Patek fouled out to first and right fielder Steve Hovley struck out. That brought outfielder Amos Otis to the plate. Angels announcer Don Drysdale made the call:

“The one strike pitch, high fly ball, this could do it. Barry going back, to the warning track, to the wall, MAKES THE CATCH! … Nolan Ryan has pitched his first no-hitter of his career!”

Telling that Drysdale specifically called it Ryan’s first, as if it was inevitable there would be others — which of course, there would be.

"From the sixth inning on, I was given a lot of space in the dugout.” Ryan said after the game, “The Angels believed in the old saying: Don't bother a pitcher who's got the no-hitter going. Don't even talk to him."

Ryan became the first Angels right-hander to throw a no-hitter and it was the first no-hitter thrown at Royals Stadium, which had only opened the previous month.

“I never honestly felt I was the type of pitcher to pitch a no-hitter,” Ryan said. “My curveball isn't overpowering and after you've gone through the lineup once or twice, the hitters can get on the fastball better. A lot of that is timing. I don't have the type of fastball that really moves. A lot of guys have that explosive type of fastball that really moves. Also, I jam the hitters a lot so the really strong guys can bloop it over the infield for singles."

One wonders if you’d have told him then he’d throw six more, would he have believed it?

Nolan Ryan no-hitter trivia: Angels second baseman Sandy Alomar made the first out of this game. 18 years later, his son Roberto Alomar struck out to end Ryan’s seventh no-hitter.

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