(c) Houston Astros
Ryan: 3,509 strikeouts
Johnson's record falls in Montreal
April 27, 1983 - by Kenny Hand, Houston Post
MONTREAL -- Ray Knight glanced at the NL West standings Wednesday morning and rubbed his eyes in disbelief.
"Hey," he exclaimed, "we're not the Lastros anymore."
To be sure, Houston had climbed out of the cellar by only one-half game and stayed in fifth place Wednesday afternoon thanks to Nolan Ryan's offensive support from Phil Garner and Dickie Thon.
They drove in two runs each and made Ryan a 4-2 winner on his history-making day.
Thon had a first-inning sacrifice fly and third-inning RBI single. Garner homered in the first and singled home another run in the third to back Ryan's five-hitter over eight innings.
Ryan, of course, struck out five. That was the magic number to break the strikeout record of 3,508 held by the Washington Senators' Walter Johnson, who died (1946) the year before the 36-year-old Ryan was born.
He brushed off a fifth-inning blister on his middle finger. "I had the trainer take care of it," Ryan said. "I would have come out for the ninth if necessary."
Ryan left after eight innings and turned over the ninth to Frank LaCorte.
Eerie, but just like Tuesday, but just last Tuesday, Omar Moreno opened Wednesday's game with a triple on the first pitch. Tim Raines looked awful getting to the high fly ball down the left-field line, and it dropped for what led to the first run -- exactly the same manner as Tuesday -- on Thon's sacrifice fly.
The Astros waited until the ninth inning of Tuesday's game to score their second run on Jose Cruz's homer. Their second run Wednesday also came on a homer, in this case by Garner, his second of the year.
Montreal shaved the lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the first on Andre Dawson's sacrifice fly after a leadoff single by Raines coupled with his stolen base and catcher Alan Ashby's error on the throw.
Moreno led off the third with a single, swiped second and scored on Thon's blooper to center. Thon also stole second and scored on a hit-and-run single to left by Garner, who was later [illegible].
With one down in the fifth, Terry Francona and Tim Blackwell laced back-to-back singles and Francona scored on a fielder's choice by Doug Flynn on a grounder to shortstop.
ASTROLOG -- There were three notably absent baseball people at Nolan Ryan's big event: Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Astros Board Chairman John McMullen and Astros General Manager Al Rosen. All three sent telegrams. Rosen was in Columbus, Ga., looking at minor league players. McMullen reportedly had a Navy function to attend . . . After Ryan broke the record, he learned he will be taping a Today television segment Thursday at 5:45 a.m. CDT and appearing live on Good Morning America at 7:30 a.m. CDT . . . Expos are one of five teams against which Ryan has struck out more than 100 batters . . . Houston television stations Channel 2 and Channel 13 sent crews to Montreal Wednesday to film the historic day . . . The Astros' next and last trip to Montreal is July 21-24 for four games . . . Astros have a day off Thursday (there will be a one-hour workout for a few players) before opening a three-game set at Philadelphia. Pitching pairings: Phillies' Steve Carlton, 3-1 vs. Joe Niekro, 0-2, Friday night; Phillies' John Donny, 2-1, vs. Mike LaCoss, 0-1, Saturday; and Phillies' Larry Christenson, 0-2, vs. Bob Knepper, 1-2, Sunday.
3,509: Ryan surpasses strikeout mark as Astros win
April 27, 1983 - by Harry Shattuck, Houston Chronicle
MONTREAL -- He was 19 years old, only a year removed from Alvin High School and, he says, "I was scared to death."
The date was Sept. 11, 1966, and Nolan Ryan was pitching for the New York Mets against the Atlanta Braves. "I had baseball cards of Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and the other Braves hitters," he says. "I was wondering what in the world I was doing out there pitching against them."
His first strikeout victim was not Aaron nor any of the vaunted Braves sluggers. It was opposing pitcher Pat Jarvis.
But on that September day, a history making career began. And 17 years later, after 490 games, 3,346 innings and 3,509 strikeouts, Nolan Ryan is the strikeout king of baseball.
Ryan erased Walter Johnson's celebrated 55-year-old career strikeout record Wednesday while pitching the Houston Astros to a 4-2 victory over the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium.
He tied the record by striking out Montreal catcher Tim Blackwell and set it by striking out Expos pinch-hitter Brad Mills, consecutive batters in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Frequently criticized throughout his career for stressing strikeouts at the expense of control and consistency, Ryan established the record on an afternoon when he did not possess his best strikeout pitch but when he displayed nearly flawless control and consistency.
He walked only one batter. He allowed only five hits. He required only 104 pitches in eight innings, remarkably low for Ryan. He recorded only five strikeouts, also below his career average of 1.04 per inning.
But he needed only five strikeouts. The record book now reads Walter Johnson, The Big Train, 3,508 strikeouts and Nolan Ryan, The Express, 3,509 strikeouts.
After the game was complete, after Phil Garner and Dickie Thon had driven in two runs each to give Ryan the lead and Frank LaCorte had saved the victory with ninth-inning relief, Nolan Ryan said simply, "My main feeling is relief.
"I guess I'll be excited later," Ryan said. "But I don't get too excited about anything. I'm just glad this is over. I didn't realize, beginning the season, that the 15 strikeouts I needed would be so difficult to get. It's been frustrating."
He began this season on the disabled list because of an inflamed prostate gland, then struck out seven Expos in his first start April 17. After considerable buildup, he endured a disappointing second appearance Friday night in the Astrodome, striking out only three Phillies, as his effort to set the record before the home fans, his family and friends was thwarted.
His wife Ruth and several other Houston friends were in Olympic Stadium Wednesday, an unusually beautiful and warm day for this time of year in Montreal. But for much of the afternoon, even the pitcher was concerned the record-setting strikeout would be delayed again.
Ryan struck out Tim Wallach and Blackwell in the second inning, but not until the sixth round did another Expo fall prey, former Texas A&M star Bryan Little becoming victim No. 3.
"In the middle innings, I didn't think I would get it," Ryan said. "I wasn't sharp with my fastball, and I wasn't getting my curve over the plate.
"I wasn't making strikeout pitches. I was getting two strikes on hitters and not getting it done (six times)."
But, catcher Alan Ashby said, "Nolan was getting sharper as the game went along. He was making good pitches, close pitches that barely missed."
Ryan retired the Expos in order in the seventh inning, but on a line drive, a pop fly and a grounder to the pitcher. And as he walked to the mound to begin the eighth inning, he knew it was his last chance this day.
Ryan knew because, although the scared kid from Alvin is now a certain Hall of Famer, an author of five no-hitters and holder or part-holder of 25 other major-league records, a problem that plagued him in his early years has temporarily resurfaced.
Ryan, as a talented but unpolished and wild youth with the Mets, once feared his career would end prematurely because of recurring blisters on his pitching hand. He used to apply pickle brine to curb the problem.
"I had to drain the blister after the seventh inning," Ryan said Wednesday, "and although I went out there for the eighth, I figured I would be not able to pitch the ninth inning."
It wasn't necessary. Ryan struck out Blackwell, for the second time, on a 3-2 pitch. Almost all among the 19,309 spectators gave him a standing ovation. Ashby and the infielders walked to the mound to congratulate Ryan, and the record-tying baseball was tossed into the Astros dugout en route to Cooperstown, N.Y., and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He then threw a called third strike past Mills, pinch-hitting for Doug Flynn. Again, an ovation, this time much louder and longer. Again, handshakes. Again, the baseball was retired.
"I think the pitches I made to those two hitters were as good as any I made all day," Ryan said. "I didn't try to strike out anybody to set the record. It was just a matter of whoever was up there."
All but ignored in the aftermath were:
- The Astros' third consecutive victory;
- A rare two-game series sweep of the Expos in Montreal;
- Garner's second homer of the season in the first inning and run-scoring single in the third;
- Thon's first-inning sacrifice fly and third inning RBI single;
- Two hits each by Garner, Omar Moreno and Ray Knight and an 11-hit Houston attack, including nine hits and all the runs against previously undefeated Montreal pitcher Scott Sanderson;
- LaCorte's perfect ninth inning; worth his first 1983 save.
But this was Ryan's day, one he ranks in terms of satisfaction behind only his fifth no-hitter for Houston in 1981 and his unprecendented 383 strikeouts for California in 1978.
"I look at records as a gauge for judging people's accomplishments," Ryan said. "But I'm not record-oriented. I don't think it would be fair to my teammates or to the people who employ me to put the record ahead of a victory.
Neither, Ryan said, "do I compare myself with people, not with Sandy Koufax or Walter Johnson or Bob Feller or any other strikeout picher.
"When I broke Sandy Koufax's season strikout record (in 1973), it was special because growing up, I was one of his biggest fans. I don't know that much about Walter Johnson."
Many have compared Ryan and Johnson, who toiled 21 years for the Washington Senators, during these past few weeks.
Gracious gentlemen. Clean-living sorts. Durable. Superbly conditioned. Dominating fastballs. Those are the descriptions most frequently used.
One spring or summer day many years from now, perhaps when another 19-year-old scared rookie is recording his first strikeout, historians will offer another comparison.
They will say and write, as they have said and written for decades, the words Walter Johnson, a baseball legend.
They will also say and write, Nolan Ryan, a baseball legend.