It’s Not How You Start; It’s How You Finish” Nolan Ryan’s 7th No Hitter
By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E
On May 1, 1991, Nolan Ryan threw his 7th no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays in Arlington, Texas at the age of 44. What started as a very bad day ended in a record setting night. Nolan said that when he got up that morning, his body ached all-over. He told his wife, Ruth, that he really felt old.
When he got to the ball park, he told his pitching coach, Tom House and the Rangers trainers that his back hurt, his heel hurt, he had a headache, he had a split callus on the middle finger of his pitching hand, he didn’t feel good and he really felt old.
In baseball years, he was old; older than his teammates, older than the team owner, George W. Bush, older than the manager, Bobby Valentine and older than the pithing coach, Tom House. Nolan was so old that his older son, Reid, was the same age as Rangers future hall of fame catcher, Pudge Rodriguez.
The trainers tried to loosen his back with a heating pad, but it didn’t work. Nolan said that when he went to bull pen to warm-up, he really felt bad. His pain and command in the bullpen were so bad that, for the first time in his life, he quit in the middle of his bullpen. He felt so bad that he jumped the fence between the bullpen and the field instead of taking the tunnel to the clubhouse. When he got to the dugout, he told Bobby Valentine – “You better get someone up in the bullpen, because I don’t think I’m getting out of the first inning.”
When the managers exchanged line-up cards at home plate, Valentine warned the home plate umpire, Tim Tschida, that he might need to make a pitching change in the first inning. Nolan said that when the left the dugout on his way to the mound, he turned to Valentine and said, “This might be it.” Valentine took him at his word and the Rangers had a pitcher warming up in the bullpen in the first inning in case Nolan’s back tightened up.
Nolan said that when he got to the mound, his mind set was just to get through one batter and one inning at a time. He got out of the first inning allowing only a walk, then he found his groove in the second, freezing all three batters with 12-to-6 curveballs. While he started the game thinking he would not be out there very long, once the game got going, everything kicked in and it got better and better as the game went on. He finished the evening with no hits, 2 walks and 16 Ks. He registered at least one strikeout per inning and threw only 122 pitches, 82 of which were strikes. He was perfect except for two walks and neither of them advanced past first base.
The last out was future Hall of Famer, Roberto Alomar. Nolan had known Roberto since he was a kid. Nolan and Roberto’s father, Sandy, were teammates with the Angels, and Sandy played second base in each of Nolan’s first no-hitters in 1973. In typical Ryan fashion, the last out was a swing and miss at a 93-mph fastball.
The official attendance at game time was 33,439. The game was not on TV so, fans had to listen in on the radio. After Nolan completed the 5th, fans who had been listening to the game on the radio, sensing that something magical was happening began to drive to the stadium. When the game ended, an additional 10,000 fans had entered the stadium to witness history in the making. The game lasted only 2 hours and 25 minutes.
In his post-game news conference, Nolan said – “I never had command of all three pitches like I did tonight. This was my most overpowering no-hitter.”
What started as a bad day, ended in a historical night because Nolan’s ferocious competitiveness would not let him give in. In typical Ryan fashion, Nolan celebrated his historical accomplishment with a 30-minute bike ride, core and stretching program to help prepare for his next start. Nolan firmly believed that – “You should never lose because the opposition was better prepared than you were.”
When looking back at how the day started and how it ended, it can be summed up by a quote from former Major League pitcher, Joaquin Andujar who said: “There is one word in baseball that says it all. That one word is You Never Know.”
Nolan finished the 1991 season with a 2.91 ERA and led the Majors in WHIP (1.01), hits per nine innings (5.3) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.6) at age 44.
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM has over four decades as a head strength and conditioning coach (Astros 1978-2012) and strength and conditioning consultant (Rangers 2013-2020). He is a Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and a Website Education Manager.