No-hitter No. 7? No big deal. Nolan Ryan had work to do.
"My life revolves around my workout routine right now," the Texas Rangers right-hander said at a news conference later in the day, offering about as good an explanation as any for how, at 44, he had held the Toronto Blue Jays hitless the previous night.
In perhaps the most dominating performance of his 25-year major-league career, Ryan struck out 16 and walked two in a 3-0 victory over the Blue Jays, who began the game leading the American League in batting average and runs.
For historical perspective, consider that, in what has generally been regarded as Ryan's finest no-hitter, he struck out 17 and walked four against the Detroit Tigers while pitching for the California Angels in 1973.
Also consider that the Angels second baseman in that game was Sandy Alomar, whose son, Roberto Alomar, struck out to end Wednesday's game.
Ryan says he doesn't pay as much attention to his age as others do. But he said that striking out Roberto Alomar made him feel at least a little bit up in years.
"I knew him when he was a toddler in the [Angels] clubhouse," Ryan said. "He wanted to be a pitcher at the time, and I can remember playing with him in the clubhouse, working with him on throwing. That's how you tell how much time passes -- when you see people [he once played with] with kids [in the major leagues]."
This was supposed to be a season of relative tranquillity for Ryan, who, amid much fanfare, recorded his 5,000th strikeout in 1989 and earned his 300th victory in 1990. Also last season, on a June night in Oakland, Calif., he pitched his sixth no-hitter -- and first since 1981 -- making him the oldest pitcher in major-league history to throw a no-hitter.
But he breathed new life into his legend Wednesday. So there he was yesterday on a platform in a hotel ballroom, taking time out from a day-off appearance at a charitable function to answer the usual questions about his past, present and future.
Having pitched three more no-hitters than any other pitcher in major-league history, Ryan is assured a place among the giants of baseball. But, self-effacing as always, he declined to offer perspective.
"I never think about things like that," he said. "Keeping up my career is an ongoing deal, and I have to concern myself with my next game. So I don't sit around and reflect on what's happening. Once a game's over. . . . Well, it's like this morning. I was down in the weight room preparing myself for my next start. That's what I have to concern myself with -- my routine -- so I'll be ready."
Ryan had outstanding command of all three of his pitches -- fastball, curveball and changeup -- making the no-hitter, in his view, a testimonial to his maturing from fastball pitcher to total pitcher during the past 10 years.
"Last night was more a reflection on me as a complete pitcher than any other time, as far as no-hitters are concerned," he said.
As Ryan prepared to face the Blue Jays with a 2-2 record Wednesday, he felt rotten, complaining of back pain, a sore Achilles' tendon and bleeding, cracked skin on the middle finger of his right hand.
"He said, 'I've been popping Advils all day, and it ain't helping,' " Rangers pitching coach Tom House said.
On top of all that, Ryan was pitching on four days' rest. Pitching on four days' rest last year, he was 6-7 with a 4.07 ERA.
Trying to explain how he pitched a no-hitter under such $l conditions, Ryan said, "When things aren't quite right physically, you can become more focused on what you have to do."
Asked why he keeps working through the pain of his workouts, Ryan said: "I realize I'm not going to be here much longer. I enjoy the competition. I enjoy being in shape. There are a lot of days I wish I didn't have to do [his conditioning work], but that's just part of the deal.
"You know, I think I get some of that from my father. He worked two jobs to put four girls through college. I know he didn't want to get up every night at 1 o'clock, but that's what he had to do. And that's what I have to do to continue to pitch on this level. That's what I will do until I can't do it any longer."
By the numbers
Ryan's milestone victories No. 1: April 14, 1968, Mets 4, Houston 0. Ryan pitches 6 2/3 innings, allows 3 hits, gives up no runs, walks 2 and strikes out 8.
No. 50: April 11, 1973, California 4, Minnesota 1. Ryan pitches a complete game, allows 5 hits, gives up 1 run, walks 5 and strikes out 11.
No. 100: June 1, 1975, California 1, Baltimore 0, Ryan pitches a no-hitter, walks 4, strikes out 9. Ryan's fourth no-hitter.
No. 150: Sept 24, 1978, California 7, Chicago 3. Ryan pitches 7 innings, allows 5 hits, gives up 3 runs, walks 5 and strikes out 6.
No. 200: July 27, 1982, Houston 3, Cincinnati 2. Ryan pitches a complete game, allows 5 hits, walks 2 and strikes out 13.
No. 250: Aug. 27, 1986, Houston 7, Chicago 1. Ryan pitches 6 innings, allows 1 hit, gives up no runs, walks 2 and strikes out 5.
No. 300: July 31, 1990, Texas 11, Milwaukee 3. Ryan pitches 7 2/3 innings, allows 6 hits, gives up 3 runs, walks 2 and strikes out 8.
Ryan's milestone strikeouts
1: Sept. 11, 1966, vs. St. Louis (Pat Jarvis).
500: April 18, 1972, vs. Minnesota (Charlie Manuel).
1,000: July 3, 1973, vs. Oakland (Sal Bando).
1,500: Aug. 25, 1974, vs. Yankees (Sandy Alomar).
2,000: Aug. 31, 1976, vs. Detroit (Ron LeFlore).
2,500: Aug. 12, 1978, vs. Cleveland (Buddy Bell).
3,000: July 4, 1980, vs. Cincinnati (Cesar Geronimo).
3,500: April 17, 1983, vs. Montreal (Andre Dawson).
4,000: July 11, 1985, vs. Mets (Danny Heep).
4,500: Sept. 9, 1987, vs. San Francisco (Mike Aldrete).
5,000: Aug. 22, 1989, vs Oakland (Rickey Henderson).