ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nolan Ryan continues to go where no man has gone before, throwing his seventh career no-hitter, three more than any other pitcher in baseball history.
Ryan, extending a record he set almost 10 years ago, thrilled a crowd of 33,439 and a national television audience in Canada by holding the Toronto Blue Jays hitless in the Texas Rangers' 3-0 victory last night at Arlington Stadium.
That it came at Arlington Stadium, on Arlington Appreciation Night, made this no-hitter stand out from the others.
"I'm glad I was able to throw it at home because of the way the fans have treated me since I've been here," Ryan said. "The fans have really been supportive here; that's what makes this one so special."
Afterward, manager Bobby Valentine broke out a bottle of Dom Perrignon given to him by former Rangers owner Brad Corbett on Opening Day 1986. Valentine had been saving it for a World Series celebration but couldn't resist popping the cork and having his players drink a toast in Ryan's honor.
"This was too special not to," Valentine said. "Plus, we drank a toast to October, too."
The no-hitter comes with an extraordinary set of circumstances, including the fact that at age 44, Ryan is the oldest pitcher to throw a no-hitter. Of course, he already set that record when he pitched his no-hitter last year, at 43, against the Oakland Athletics.
He did it pitching on four days' rest, which, at least statistically, is not the best time for him to make a start, Ryan was 6-7 with a 4.07 ERA pitching on four days' rest last year.
He did it with a stiff back, sore bones and a bloody right middle finger, the result of his skin and scar tissue breaking open while warming up in the bullpen.
"It was a downer of a day physically," Ryan said. "A no-hitter was the furthest thing from my mind when I came to the ballpark."
"He had one of his worst warm-ups ever in the bullpen," Valentine said. "[Pitching coach] Tom House told me his back was stiff, every bone was killing him, he feels like he's getting old, don't leave him out there too long."
Valentine asked Ryan before the game if the back was a problem and was told it was a little stiff. He asked his pitcher how it would be once the game started.
"He told me it would be history," Valentine said. "Little did he know what he meant by history."
His teammates knew something special was in the air after the second inning, when Ryan struck out the side in order, catching John Olerud, Mark Whiten and Glenallen Hill looking at strike-three curveballs.
"Steve [Buechele] and I came off the field after the second inning and told each other all we need is one run," shortstop Jeff Huson said. "We could tell he had his great stuff then. We just knew."
Valentine said: "In the second inning, his curveball just jumped out of the woodwork. That's as good a curve as he has had. He had an outstanding curve, an outstanding fastball and he was hitting wonderful spots."
Ryan struck out 16, tying his team record, and walked two, certainly one of the most overpowering no-hitters anybody has thrown. Ryan's "best" no-hitter generally has been considered his second, when, pitching for the California Angels against the Detroit Tigers in 1973, he struck out 17 and walked four.
"I had the best command of all three pitches. This is the best," Ryan, 44, said of his no-hit collection. "This is my most overpowering night."
The closest the Blue Jays came to a hit was Manuel Lee's blooper to short center in the fifth inning that Gary Pettis ran down and caught it at knee level.
"I really felt it had a shot at falling in at first," Ryan said. "But I knew we were playing him shallow, and if anybody can make that play coming on like that, the best is Gary Pettis."
Pettis said he thought, when the ball came off the bat, it was going to fall in because, "I playing him shaded to left, and it was hit toward right. But I got a good jump on the ball."
Toronto's hardest-hit ball was Whiten's line drive to lead off the eighth inning, but the ball headed straight toward right fielder Ruben Sierra for the out. There were no other close calls from the team that entered the game leading the American League in team batting average and runs.
"Any time you face Nolan Ryan, two things can happen," Toronto manager Cito Gaston said. "He can beat you or he can throw a no-hitter. The biggest thing you can do is prevent him from beating you, because you can't do anything about tonight. He just had great stuff."
The Rangers got Ryan the runs he needed in the third against Toronto starter Jimmy Key, as Sierra hit a two-run homer, his third home run in the past two games.
From then on, all attention was directed toward Ryan and his bid to add another chapter to an already lustrous legacy, and by the fourth inning, if not earlier, the crowd knew what was going on.
THE MASTER Nolan Ryan's seven no-hitters:
May 15, 1973, at Kansas City, 3-0
July 15, 1973, at Detroit, 6-0
Sept. 28, 1974, vs. Minnesota, 4-0
June 1, 1975, vs. Baltimore, 1-0
Sept. 26, 1981, vs. L.A., 5-0
June 11, 1990, at Oakland, 5-0
May 1, 1991, vs. Toronto, 3-0
THE COMPANY HE KEEPS Major-league pitchers who have thrown three or more no-hitters since 1900:
Nolan Ryan, 1973 (2), 1974, 1975, 1981, 1990, 1991
Sandy Koufax, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965
Bob Feller, 1940, 1946, 1951