2 1/2 decades later, hitting Ryan is still mystery to Orioles

April 14, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's tough to talk about something you know little about. That's about the only thing two generations of hitters have learned about Nolan Ryan.

And the Orioles are no exception. Players on the current roster are batting a collective .206, with 33 strikeouts in 160 at-bats.

Those numbers are explanation enough of Ryan's 5-0 record against the Orioles in the past two years. He lost 16 of his first 21 decisions against the Orioles, but for the most part that was a baseball lifetime ago, during his first stint in the American League with the California Angels.

His track record is extensive -- 25 years, 795 games, 320 wins, 5,673 strikeouts, seven no-hitters -- and his pattern is basically the same. But for those who have to hit against him, Ryan is as much a mystery today as he was when he broke in as a rookie with the New York Mets in 1966.

Tonight Ryan is scheduled to make his 32nd career appearance against the Orioles. Since he has announced he is retiring at the end of the year, there is a possibility it will also be his last. If so, fans in Baltimore might be disappointed, but not the Orioles.

"You try not to approach him any different than any other pitcher," said Cal Ripken, one of the few Orioles who has had a degree of success against Ryan (7-for-23, two home runs). "But you have to try to fight the 'psych.'

"You have to try to forget what he's done, that you're a fan, that you respect him, that you like him. You try to make a normal at-bat out of it and keep it in perspective. But it's very difficult to do."

Despite his accomplishments, the approach in facing Ryan is not any different than it would be against any other pitcher. "He's got a fastball, a curveball and a breaking ball, just like most pitchers," said Chris Hoiles. "And you've got to think fastball first and adjust to everything else -- like you do against most pitchers."

But, even at the age of 46, that's where the similarities between Ryan and other pitchers come to a screeching halt. "He looks to me like he can still make the perfect pitch," said Hoiles. "He doesn't just throw the fastball; he uses it on both sides of the plate."

Davey Lopes has observed Ryan as an opponent (while playing for the Dodgers), as a teammate (for three years as a Rangers coach) and now as an Orioles coach. He remains in awe of what Ryan has done.

"He's the only guy I've ever seen that I've said it would never surprise me if he pitched a no-hitter at any time," said Lopes. "Any time he's got both his fastball and his curve working, he can pitch a no-hitter.

"How many does he have? Seven? I'm telling you, he could easily have had three more -- just in the games I saw him pitch while I was with the Rangers," said Lopes. "It's hard for me to comprehend how a guy can be as dominant as he's been this long."

Those who saw Ryan in the National League with the Houston Astros say he has changed his style since returning to the American League.

"I think he's been a different pitcher since he's been in the American League," said Glenn Davis, a former teammate who has had only seven at-bats (two hits) against Ryan.

"He threw more hard stuff before -- you didn't see his curveball much then. And now he's also got the changeup. He still challenges guys, but he picks his spots more."

One hitter who said he has altered his approach somewhat against Ryan is Harold Reynolds. "I have [changed] in the last couple of years," said the switch-hitting second baseman.

"When I first faced him I was in awe -- I was hacking on the first pitch because I didn't want to strike out. He's pitching a little more now, throwing sinkers. But when his curveball is working, I don't know too many who can hit him."

Of all the Orioles, Brady Anderson (0-for-13, five strikeouts) has had the least success against Ryan. Asked if he tried to do anything different, Anderson just smiled.

"You mean except for the fact that I don't get any hits?" he asked. "Or looking for three fastballs that I never get?"

That Ryan is in his 26th year is amazing in itself. That he still commands the respect he does is testimony enough of what he has accomplished.

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