Ryan spans generations with no-hit works of art

On baseball

May 03, 1991|By Jim Henneman

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Watching the last two innings of Nolan Ryan's incredible seventh no-hitter Wednesday night had to create flashbacks for anyone fortunate enough to have seen any part of The Amazing One's career.

Two games against the Orioles stand out in the personal memory bank. They came during what should have been, by any mortal standards, Ryan's prime. Both took place here at "The Big A," where the Orioles will be playing the next four days.

The first flashback is a vivid picture of Bobby Grich standing frozen at home plate while a changeup sliced the middle of the plate for a called third strike for the final out -- of a 1-0 victory. It was the fourth no-hitter of Ryan's career, tying him with Sandy Koufax for what then was the all-time record.

The date was June 1, 1975. By the calendar that's almost 16 years ago. By baseball standards an era has passed between that game and the no-hitter two nights ago. A lot of careers were completed in between.

Consider: Ryan was 28 years old. Brooks Robinson was two years away from retirement. Cal Ripken Jr. was a freshman in high school. Ross Grimsley was the losing pitcher (Wayne Garland relieved him). Elrod Hendricks was the Orioles' catcher. Ken Singleton was the leadoff hitter.

The other memorable confrontation between Ryan and the Orioles took place July 19, 1973. It is generally overlooked because of his extraordinary records, but that night Ryan came within two innings of matching Johnny Vander Meer's feat of pitching back-to-back no-hitters -- and lost the game.

Four nights earlier Ryan had pitched his second no-hitter in Detroit, beating the Tigers 6-0. He followed up with seven hitless innings against the Orioles. The first hit, by Mark Belanger, came in a situation that screamed for a sacrifice bunt, after Robinson had led off the inning by getting hit by a pitch. But Belanger, inexplicably, had some success against The Express, and the soft single he dumped into centerfield was the only hit Ryan allowed in 10 innings.

Doubles by Tommy Davis and Terry Crowley in the 11th inning produced a 2-1 win for the Orioles, who had scored their first run without a hit in the first inning. There was a final touch of irony on the night that Ryan first danced with history. Winning pitcher Mike Cuellar, hardly a noted fireballer, struck out more batters (13) than Ryan (11).

And now, 16 years later, Ryan will get a seventh chance to match Vander Meer, whose double no-nos (the only ones of his career) came 53 years ago -- June 11 and 15, 1938.

* FOUR IS ENOUGH: Which manager will be smart enough to rediscover that four starting pitchers are better than five? You may have noticed that Vander Meer's double no-hitters and Ryan's flirtation with that record came four days apart.

The hardest throwers who went to the highest pitch counts (e.g. Ryan) always seemed to thrive on three days of rest. The standard now is four. Instead of making 36 to 40 starts a year, the top pitchers are working in the 32 to 36 range.

Teams look for pitchers who can work 200 innings per year. Six times in his career Jim Palmer pitched 290 innings or more -- and people complained he was always hurt.

Take this prediction to the bank: No team in baseball will have five starters (minimum 20 or more starts) over .500 this year. They almost never do.

A four-man rotation adds up to eight more starts and provides another body for bullpens that are constantly being overworked -- mainly because the fourth and fifth starters struggle so often to last beyond the fifth inning.

It boils down to this: At least eight times a year each team sends out its No. 5 starter instead of its ace. And, lest there be some misunderstanding, this is not a money matter -- baseball people made these judgments long before salaries went through the sky.

It is interesting to note that Ryan's four previous starts this year, because of off-days, came after five days of rest. His no-hitter came four days after his previous start (last Friday). But after all, he is 44 -- and in his 25th season.

* MORE ABOUT ACCESSORY NERVES: The injury that has sidelined Orioles first baseman Glenn Davis is caused by a nerve that is aptly named. It is an accessory.

"It is a nerve that we often sacrifice to compensate for loss of another nerve," said a noted Baltimore neurosurgeon. In other words, it is a nerve that isn't a complete necessity in a normal everyday life. However, the muscle that it affects controls the lifting motion of the arm, which is the elementary part of throwing a baseball.

A 100 percent recovery from an injury of this type is considered as rare as the injury itself, meaning that Davis most likely won't regain all of his throwing ability. That would not necessarily restrict him from playing first base, but the role of designated hitter certainly figures more prominently in his future.

* IMPERTINENT QUESTION OF THE WEEK: If the Orioles weren't trying to hide the seriousness of Glenn Davis' injury, how come it took 10 days to reveal his first visit to Dr. James Campbell at Johns Hopkins Hospital?

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