Nolan Ryan's top moments

The Top 10 moments of Nolan Ryan's career

January 31st, 2022

As befits the man who played in the Major Leagues longer than anyone, the saga of is best told in chronological order.

Ryan's collection of achievements grew steadily with each passing season during his 27-year career, along with the amazement of observers who marveled at Ryan's ability to throw hard, harder and hardest well into his 40s.

Here's an attempt to narrow Ryan's accomplishments into a list of 10 items, as we celebrate his 75th birthday on Monday.

1. A curiosity
Oct. 14, 1969

The baseball world wasn't sure what to think of Ryan during his early years with the New York Mets. The right-hander from Alvin, Texas, possessed incredible velocity and a knee-buckling curve, but too often his most signature pitch was ball four. He averaged 6.1 walks per nine innings during his five years with New York. Ryan did, however, have his moments, as he did on this date in Game 3 of the World Series against Baltimore. He entered the game with the bases loaded, two out and New York leading, 4-0, in the seventh inning. Ryan escaped the jam, helped by Tommie Agee's sliding catch of Paul Blair's drive to right-center field, and earned the save in New York's 5-0 triumph that broke a 1-1 series tie. Ryan's final pitch, a called third strike, was a curveball that completely froze Blair, who again batted with the bases full and two down. It may have been the most famous offspeed pitch Ryan ever threw.

2. Ascending Angel

Part of a four-player package that the Mets sent to the Angels for infielder Jim Fregosi after the 1971 season, Ryan immediately established himself as the staff ace and as one of the most feared starters ever. He became the first pitcher to amass more than 300 strikeouts in three consecutive seasons, including a record 383 in 1973. To break Sandy Koufax's 1965 record of 382, Ryan pitched an 11-inning complete game and struck out 16 against Minnesota in his final start of the season. Ensuring that he would remain synonymous with strikeouts, Ryan reached the nine-inning record of 19 K's (since eclipsed) three times in 1974 -- against Boston on June 14 and Aug. 12 and Aug. 20 against Detroit.

3. No-hit king

Blessed with an unparalleled fastball-curveball combination, Ryan piled up no-hitters as if he were the biggest, baddest kid in the neighborhood dominating his Little League chums. He tied Koufax's record of four no-hitters by victimizing Kansas City on May 15, 1973; Detroit on July 15, 1973; Minnesota on Sept. 28, 1974, and Baltimore on June 1, 1975. The no-no against Baltimore happened to be his 100th career victory.

4. Coming home
Nov. 19, 1979

Ryan joined his hometown team, the Astros, by signing with them as a free agent on this date. He received a four-year, $4.5 million deal that made him the first big leaguer to earn a seven-figure annual salary. Ryan capitalized on the move by becoming the only pitcher besides Cy Young to win more than 100 games in each league.

5. No-hit history
Sept. 26, 1981

Ryan recorded his fifth career no-hitter, breaking a tie with Koufax to move into the No. 1 spot on the all-time list, by throttling the Dodgers, 5-0. He walked three and struck out 11 while earning the distinction of being the third player to throw a no-hitter in both leagues. One start later, in his regular-season finale, Ryan lowered his ERA to 1.69. That not only led the Majors but also represented a personal best.

6. Postseason heartbreak
Oct. 14, 1986

Ryan pitched about as well as humanly possible in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Mets. He allowed two hits in nine innings, walked one and struck out 12. Unfortunately for Ryan and the Astros, one of the hits he allowed was a Darryl Strawberry home run. The Mets proceeded to win, 2-1, in 12 innings. That gave New York a 3-2 lead in the series and set up the thrill-a-minute, 16-inning showdown in Game 6 won by the Mets.

7. Final stop for the Ryan Express

Astros management declined to re-sign Ryan following the 1988 season. The club began building its case in '87, when he posted an 8-16 record. However, Houston scored 27 runs in his losses. The decision-makers didn't lend enough credence to Ryan's 2.76 ERA and 270 strikeouts in '87, both NL bests. He was the first pitcher to top his league in both categories and not win the Cy Young Award. Ryan finished 12-11 with an NL-high 228 strikeouts in 1988. But the Astros declined to retain the 41-year-old, who fled north to Arlington. The Rangers were all too happy to acquire Ryan, a genuine Lone Star State legend who seemingly reached a milestone with each start.

8. Same old stuff

Ryan continued to dominate, leading the AL in strikeouts with 301 in 1989 and an AL-best 232 in '90. On Aug. 22, 1989, Ryan struck out Rickey Henderson to become the only pitcher to record 5,000 career strikeouts. After the game, Henderson respectfully said of Ryan, "If he ain't struck you out, then you ain't nobody." With the Rangers, Ryan also put his no-hitter record foreseeably out of reach. He silenced the A's on June 11, 1990, walking only two batters and striking out 14 in a 5-0 win for no-hitter No. 6. He threw his seventh and final no-hitter on May 1, 1991, against Toronto, issuing two walks and striking out 16 in a 3-0 decision.

9. Take that, young man
Aug. 4, 1993

Ryan thrilled middle-aged folks everywhere by giving a kid a lesson. In this case, the kid was Robin Ventura of the White Sox, who rapped a first-inning RBI single off Ryan. When Ventura batted again in the third inning, Ryan hit him with a pitch. Ventura angrily charged the mound, looking for a fight. But the tussle was one-sided as Ryan, 46, used his left arm to neutralize Ventura, 26, in a headlock while slugging the younger man six times with his right fist. Ryan avoided ejection and proceeded to hold Chicago hitless for the final 5 1/3 innings of his seven-inning outing. Texas won, 5-2, giving Ryan career victory No. 322.

10. Super summary

Ryan will be remembered as the toughest pitcher to hit. Consider that he's the all-time leader in strikeouts (5,714), no-hitters (seven), opponents' batting average (.203) and lowest average hits allowed per nine innings (6.55). He's also tops in games with 10 or more strikeouts (215), games with 10 or more strikeouts in a season (23, 1973) and 300-strikeout seasons (six). He issued a record 2,795 walks; otherwise, his career win-loss mark of 324-292 might be more impressive.