With curve to speak of, Ryan quiets O's

July 27, 1992|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

The disparity was evident.

Nolan Ryan said the establishment of his curveball early in the game was the key to his success yesterday. Orioles manager Johnny Oates said Ryan "didn't get a whole lot of outs with his breaking ball."

But whether the chicken came first or the egg, the bottom line was that Ryan added another notch to his venerable belt, capturing a victory for the first time at Oriole Park, the 31st park in which he has won. That is believed to be a modern major-league record.

Texas Rangers manager Toby Harrah removed Ryan after 108 pitches and seven four-hit innings with a 3-2 lead because "that is all you can expect from a starting pitcher. He was tired." The Rangers went on to a 6-2 decision for the 45-year-old baseball legend.

It didn't used to be this way between Ryan and the Orioles, who had his number for years. He was 0-9 with a 5.42 ERA in 12 meetings between April 1976 and the start of 1991.

Since then, Ryan has a 5-0 record and 2.29 ERA in six starts against the Orioles, a span in which the Rangers have won eight times in the series.

"Getting runs early takes a little pressure off," said Ryan. "We're a very explosive club, and that helped. Then, you have to be confident the bullpen is going to do the job. If it doesn't, well that's the way it happens."

The Rangers relief corps entered the day weary after Saturday's marathon victory, but Floyd Bannister (one out) and Edwin Nunez closed out the Orioles with no further damage, giving Ryan his fifth straight victory, his longest winning streak in two seasons.

"I had good stuff and established the curveball early in the game," said Ryan, who extended his major-league record to 24 seasons with at least 100 strikeouts by nailing Leo Gomez in the fourth inning.

"But I've been throwing well all year. It was just that earlier I was inconsistent with the off-speed stuff and my location. I wasn't able to get the curve over.

"Today I was able to start hitters off with the curve, show it to them. That makes the fastball better. They just can't go out and sit on it then."

He had only one tough inning, the fourth, when he gave up three straight hits, but "was glad I was able to shut them down after that."

"He's so tough," said Harrah. "When we used to face him, we always felt you have to get him early. But we got him a few quick runs, gave him some breathing room and then he didn't have to feel he had to make every pitch an ace."

A player less than half Ryan's age, Juan Gonzalez, 22, supplied most of the punch with two homers, a double and four RBI. His second homer was a 450-foot drive over the center-field fence, the longest ball hit at Oriole Park this season.

"[Mike] Mussina made a good pitch on the second one," said Gonzalez. "It was a fastball down and outside."

Like the Rangers, Gonzalez had struggled at the plate, with five hits in his previous 40 at-bats and one extra-base hit in 12 games.

"We're starting to hit. We have one of the best lineups in baseball," he said. "Me, I'm looking more toward hitting to right and right-center except for inside pitches."

Harrah said Gonzalez, who has 22 home runs, is "a strong kid who comes back hard. Once he realizes hitting is not going to be easy and learns to handle hard breaking balls in the dirt, he's going to be some kind of hitter."

Opponents try to make him chase pitches off the plate because of his free-swinging tendencies.

"You have to keep it out of his happy zone.' " said Oates. "You can make him look bad as Mike did on a changeup. But if you get it in the right spot, he'll hurt you."

He hurt Mussina after a first-inning strikeout, and Ryan was tossing to the right places most of the day.

It all added up to the first Rangers series win here since 1986. "Anywhere you win three of four games against these guys, at our place or theirs, it's a big series," said Ryan.

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