40th anniversary: Nolan Ryan nearly pulls off the Vander Meer

40 years ago today, Nolan Ryan nearly did something amazing, even by his standards. Not only did he threatened to throw back-to-back no-hitters, but it would’ve been his third no-hitter of the year.

Only one man has ever thrown back-to-back no-hitters. That was Johnny Vander Meer back in 1938. In the 1950s, Allie Reynolds and Virgil Trucks threw two in a year. In the 1960s, Jim Maloney sort of did that. (He had two nine-inning no-hitters, but one game went into extra frames and since Maloney allowed in a hit in overtime, it doesn’t quite count). More recently, Roy Halladay threw two no-hitters in one year, but only one in the regular season, with the other coming in the NLCS against the Reds.

But in 1973, Nolan Ryan did in fact throw two no-hitters. First, on May 15, 1973, Ryan no-hit the Royals in a 3-0 win, fanning 12 along the way. That was the first of seven career no-hitters for the Ryan Express. Then on July 15, 1973, the dominated the Tigers, fanning 17 in his second no-hitter of the year.

July 19, 1973 was Ryan’s first start since demolishing Detroit, and he picked up right where he left off.

Against Earl Weaver’s Orioles team, Ryan allowed a first inning run, but it came on zero hits. He walked Rich Coggins, who stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a productive grounder. Ryan also fanned two in the frame.

In the second he walked another batter, but then fanned three more men. He retired the side in order in the third and fourth innings – and by this time some fans in Angels Stadium clearly had to be hoping that this was going to keep up. If anyone could throw back-to-back no-hitters, it was Ryan, and that’s just what he was doing.

Ryan walked Terry Crowley to lead off the fifth, but then retired the next eight straight. With two out in the eighth, Ryan walked Crowley again, but then retired Bobby Grich to end the inning.

OK, this was serious. Ryan hadn’t allowed a hit through seven innings. Just two to go and he’d join Vander Meer as the only pitcher to do this twice in a row—and more incredibly have a record shattering three no-no’s in one year. The 20,823 fans must’ve been buzzing with electricity.

Making things that much more interesting, even if Ryan held the Orioles hitless through nine, he might not get the no-hitter or win. You see, that one run Coggins scored in the first was still on the board, and the Angels had only matched it, not surpassed it. The score was 1-1.

Ryan would’ve gotten a huge ovation as he came out to pitch the eighth. They so wanted to see their star pitcher continue his domination. First up was aging veteran Brooks Robinson. He wasn’t the player he’d once been but you still had to be careful with the veteran. Ryan plunked him, so Robinson didn’t get a hit but Ryan was still six outs way.

But that’s OK. Next up was super gloveman Mark Belanger. He was maybe the worst hitter in baseball. In 1973, he’d bat .226 on the year, which was quite a nice mark for him given that he hit .186 the year before. Clearly he was no match for the unrivaled Ryan.

But that’s why they play the game, because unlikely as it sounded, little Mark Belanger hit it where they ain’t, and singled to center. History had been derailed by a most unlikely batter.

The game went on and got worse for Ryan. The Angels lost in 11 when Ryan allowed a double, and the bullpen let that inherited runner score on a double by Terry Crowley (who was apparently having quite the nice for himself).

Though it didn’t have the storybook ending, it’s still a testament to how impressive Nolan Ryan could be when he was on that he nearly had his third no-hitter of the year and second in a row—40 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since the Giants top the Phillies 3-2 in Game Six of the 2010 NLCS in a tight, tense games. The Giants bullpen takes over in the second inning and gets the job done.

2,000 days since veteran catcher Mike Lieberthal announces his retirement.

3,000 days since Boston signs free agent John Olerud.

3,000 days since The Cardinals stage a huge comeback to beat the Reds, 10-9. They score seven runs in the top of the ninth, with the big blats being a three-run homer by Jim Edmonds and a two-run dinger by John Mabry.

4,000 days since Robb Nen records his 300th save.

4,000 days since Travis Hafner makes his big league debut.

5,000 days since the Philies trade Adam Eaton and two others to San Diego for Andy Ashby.

7,000 days since Robin Ventura plays shortstop for the only time in his career. He spends seven innings there.

8,000 days since Mariners pitcher Rob Murphy appears in his 121st game without getting a win, breaking the old record held by Tom Henke.

15,000 days since Bernice Gera umpires her first game in the New York-Pennsylvania League. After one game of a doubleheader, she resigns in tears. She ejects a player in the game, but says the main problem was the attitude by the other umpires.

15,000 days since Dick Allen plays his last game at third base.

20,000 days since Indians owner William Daley announces the team will stay in Cleveland instead of moving to Minneapolis or Houston (which they had been threatening to do).

Anniversaries

1873 Harry Davis, first baseman and at one point the all-time AL career home run leader, is born.

1883 Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers gets six hits in one game.

1888 Cap Anson refuses to play an exhibition game against International League team Newark because it has some black players, George Stovey and Fleet Walker. Stovey feigns illness and the club benches Walker so the game goes on.

1891 Earl Hamilton, pitcher who will go 115-147 in his career, is born.

1896 Bob Meusel, outfielder on the 1927 Yankees, is born.

1897 Big league debut for Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner.

1898 St. Louis purchases Tommy Tucker from Brooklyn. Though nearly the end of the line, in his prime Tucker had been the game’s first great switch hitter.

1899 Mike Donlin, star on the Giants, makes his big league debut.

1902 The Giants play their first game under John McGraw, and lose.

1904 Mark Koenig, also a 1927 Yankee, is born.

1907 Mordecai Brown hits his only career over-the-fence home run. It’s all fellow Hall of Famer Iron Man Joe McGinnity.

1909 Neal Ball, Cleveland Indians shortstop, pulls off the rare unassisted triple play.

1910 Cy Young invents the 500 win club. He’s still the only member, and the only one even remotely close to it.

1910 The Boston Braves purchase Lefty Tyler from Lowell in the New England League. He’ll be a key pitcher for the world champion 1914 Miracle Braves.

1911 The St. Louis Cardinals get incredibly lucky off the field. Their manager complains about the train they’re riding, causing the team to leave it. Afterwards, the now Cardinal-free train gets in a wreck, killing 18. The section St. Louis players had been on is damaged beyond all recognition.

1914 The Miracle Braves climb out of last place with a 3-2 win over the Reds. They’ll win the world title this year.

1916 Phil Cavarretta, longtime Cub first baseman, is born.

1918 Secretary of War Newton Baker rules that major league baseball is not an essential occupation when Washington catcher Eddie Ainsmith tries to use his job for a draft deferment.

1919 Tris Speaker debuts as Indians manager.

1924 George Burns, Cleveland player, gets six hits in a game.

1924 St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Herman Bell wins both ends of a doubleheader, 6-1 and 2-1 over the Braves. He allows no hits until the eighth in the first game, and none until the fifth in the second one.

1925 Former star Red Sox pitcher Dutch Leonard appears in his last game.

1927 Giants honor their longtime manager with John McGraw Day at the Polo Grounds. The Cubs spoil it by winning, 8-5.

1928 Babe Ruth enjoys his seventh multi-home run game of the year. He won’t have another one for 11 months and two days.

1929 Rogers Hornsby hits his 33rd and final inside-the-park home run. No one’s had that many since. This one is off Pete Alexander in the first inning.

1933 Brothers Wes and Rick Ferrell each homer in the same game for the only time. Rick hits his off brother Wes, in fact.

1936 Big league debut for the teenaged wonder of the world, Bob “Rapid Robert” Feller.

1939 Arky Vaughan hits for his second cycle, and it’s no ordinary one. He gets two home runs, tying his personal best of five hits in a game.

1940 Cubs and Dodgers get in a fight when Cub pitcher Claude Passeau flings his bat at Brooklyn pitcher Hugh Casey.

1940 Buddy Rosar hits for the cycle.

1941 George McQuinn hits for the cycle.

1942 Enos Slaughter hits a walk-off inside the park home run in the bottom of the 11th. That’s a pretty snazzy clutch homer. Aside from being one of five walk-offs, and four insiders, it’s also the latest he ever homered in a game.

There is a definite ugly aspect to this blast, though. Dodgers outfielder Pete Reiser runs headfirst into the wall at Sportsman’s Park trying to get it, and ends up with a concussion bleeding from his ears. That’s why Slaughter is able to dash all the way around the bases. Yeah, that’s an ugly side to it.

1942 Red Ruffing tosses a complete game shutout and hits a three-run homer in the same contest. It’s the only time he ever combines a home run and shutout. He’s 3-for-4 with two runs and four RBIs in the Yankees’ 12-0 win over Chicago.

1945 Umpire George Magerkurth deals with heckler Thomas J. Longo in a way the league would not approve of—he walks over and punches him out.

1946 AL umpire Red Jones is bothered by a voice in the Sox dugout that he can’t identify, so he solves the situation by running all 14 men on the bench.

1946 Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser has his worst day at the plate: 0-for-5 with five strikeouts. It’s his only five-strikeout day.

1947 Willard Brown, Hall of Fame Negro Leaguer, makes his major league debut for the Browns. They’re just trying to raise ticket sales and soon will dump Brown and fellow Negro League Hank Thompson when the hoped-for surge of interest doesn’t materialize. Hank Thompson gets another chance with the Giants, but Brown never does.

1948 Joe Gordon, Hall of Fame second baseman, hits his 200th home run.

1950 The Yankees purchase Elston Howard from Negro League team the Kansas City Monarchs.

1950 The Braves sign Bucky Walters as a free agent. Walters was a great pitcher for a stretch, but is well past his prime now.

1951 Jayson Stark, former mustache man and ESPN baseball writer, born.

1952 Red Sox manager Joe Cronin announces that outfielder Jimmy Piersall will miss the rest of the year on doctor’s advice due to mental problems.

1952 The first black player in the Georgia State League is 12-year-old batboy Joe Relford. In the eighth inning, who goes 0-for-1 and makes a running catch.

1955 Vern Law of the Pirates has the best-known one-game WPA by any pitcher. His line: 18 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 12K, but he gets a no-decision as it takes the Pirates 19 innings to beat the Braves, 4-3. (Yeah, that’s right, it was 2-2 after 18 but ends 4-3. Fun 19th inning). Law is the last pitcher to last over 16 innings in a start. Young outfielder Hank Aaron has his only game with at bats, going 1-for-8.

1955 In the Southern League All-Star Game, Jim Lemon of Chattanooga clouts four home runs.

1957 On Gil Hodges Day in Ebbets Field, the man of the hour records his 1,000th RBI. In the second game of a doubleheader, Johnny Roseboro laces his first career home run.

1958 Ted Williams hits the third and final walk-off home run of his career.

1958 The Milwaukee Braves sign teenaged knuckleballer Phil Niekro.

1959 Enos Slaughter enjoys the last of nine career multi-home run games.

1960 Juan Marichal makes his big league debut with one of the greatest starts in history: a complete game one-hitter with 12 strikeouts. An eighth inning single by Clay Dalrymple breaks it up. Marichal’s Game Score of 96 is the best he’ll ever have in a nine-inning game.

1960 Relief pitcher Phil Regan, AKA “the Vulture,” makes his big league debut.

1961 On either this day or some day shortly before (my sources conflict) Ford Frick makes his asterisk comments about what happens if Roger Maris hits his 61st homer after the 154th game marker.

1961 Big league debut for Al Downing, the man who later surrenders homer No. 715 to Hank Aaron.

1961 Carl Yastrzemski makes two errors in one game for the only time in his career.

1961 Washington signs what’s left of former star Indians pitcher Mike Garcia.

1963 Harmon Killebrew belts his 200th home run.

1963 Roy Sievers belts his 300th home run.

1963 The best hitting streak of Willie McCovey’s career maxes at 24 games. He’s 34-for-98 with three doubles and 15 homers in this span.

1964 Luis Tiant makes an impressive big league debut. He tosses a four-hit complete game shutout over the Yankees and Whitey Ford.

1965 The San Francisco Giants sign what’s left of Warren Spahn.

1965 The Mets sign amateur free agent Jim Bibby.

1966 Robin Roberts records 28 outs in a game for the 25th and final time. He lasts 11 innings, but gets a no-decision.

1966 Byron Browne of the Cubs fans five times in 18-inning game against the Reds. All five Ks are to Jim Maloney. Browne than fans three more times the next day, setting a two-game record.

1966 Joe Torre smashes his 100th home run. He also gets No. 99 today, which is his third and final career grand slam.

1968 Mickey Mantle hits his first triple in exactly 25 months. It’s the last one of his career.

1969 International League game in Buffalo supposedly suspended for “threatening weather.” Reality: knife-wielding gang takes over the clubhouse during batting practice. Well, that is threatening.

1972 Gaylord Perry wins his 150th career game. His career record is 150-116. He’ll go 164-149 the rest of his days.

1972 Steve Carlton wins 3-2 after pitching 11 innings, tying his longest career outing.

1974 Cleveland’s Dick Bosman no-hits the A’s, 4-0. Oakland only has one base runner, who reaches on an error in the fourth inning. The error is by Bosman himself.

1974 First baseman Bruce Bochte makes his major league debut.

1975 The St. Louis Cardinals issue six intentional walks in one game, a record for a nine-inning game. Added bonus: they do it in eight innings, as they lose on the road, 5-2 to the Giants. None of the intentionally walked men score, though. No. 8 hitter in the order Doug Rader is intentionally walked in each of his first three times to the plate.

1975 Thurman Munson hits a RBI single in the first inning, but it’s nullified because the pine tar in his bat goes beyond 18 inches. The Yankees lose 2-1 to the Brewers.

1977 Japan’s Sadaharu Oh draws his 2,057th career walk, one more than Babe Ruth had.

1978 In the top of the fourth, Nolan Ryan loads the bases with no outs, then fans three straight batters to escape without allowing a run. It’s the third time he’s done that in his career. He never does it again.

1978 Pete Rose keeps his hitting streak alive—but barely. The Phillies retire him in the eighth inning, still hitless. Then his teammates have an offensive surge, allowing him to get on with a ninth inning bunt single.

1979 Rick Ankiel, pitcher turned outfielder, is born.

1980 An Angels loss gives manager Jim Fregosi a career record under .500 (183-184). It’ll stay under .500 for the rest of his dugout days.

1982 Tony Gywnn makes his major league debut, doubling in his first trip to the plate.

1982 75-year-old Luke Appling belts a home run in the first annul Cracker Jack Old Timers Classic off of Warren Spahn.

1983 For the first time in five years and one day, Tom Seaver picks off a runner.

1984 Orel Hershiser has his best Game Score, 92 while tossing a two-hit shutout with nine strikeouts. It’s his third consecutive complete-game shutout. In those three games Hershiser allows 11 hits and three walks in that time while fanning 29.

1985 White Sox beat the Twins, 1-0. This is one of only three 20th century games that contain all three following elements: 1) a 1-0 score, 2) two Hall of Fame starters pitchers tossing complete games (Tom Seaver and Bert Blyleven in this case), and 3) the only run coming when a Hall of Famer homers (Carlton Fisk). The other games are the famous Juan Marichal-Warren Spahn duel that ending in 16 innings on a Willie Mays home run, and game Warren Spahn lost to Jim Bunning due to a Bunning home run.

1985 Texas trades longtime infielder Buddy Bell to the Reds.

1986 Ron Darling, Tim Teufel, Bob Ojeda, and Rick Aguilera are all arrested in an early morning fight with off-duty cops working as security at a Houston bar. Yeah, that sounds like the ’86 Mets alright. That day, the Astros win, 5-4. The Mets scored four in the top of the ninth to tie it, but Houston gets the final run in the bottom of the ninth.

1987 Minnesota retires No. 29 for Rod Carew.

1987 Wade Boggs has his worst game, according to WPA anyway. He’s 0-for-6 with a pair of Ks, as the Red Sox lose to the A’s 5-3 in 11 innings. Boggs makes an out to end the ninth and 11th innings, with both outs occurring with runners on first and second base.

1988 In Japan, Hanshin Tigers GM Shingo Furuya kills himself. He’s only been there six weeks but been heavily criticized.

1988 Longtime Astros star Jose Cruz plays in his last game.

1988 Here’s a weird one: Rick Sutcliffe has the rare unassisted pickoff. Brett Butler wanders too far off the bag at first with a runner on second.

1988 Glenn Davis, somehow, someway, homers off an eephus pitcher from Pascual Perez.

1989 Carlton Fisk nails his 2,000th career hit.

1989 Joe Carter has his fourth career three home run game. He’ll end up with five of them, one shy of Johnny Mize’s all-time record (later tied by Sammy Sosa).

1990 Pete Rose sentenced to five months in jail for not paying his taxes.

1991 The Royals lose 17-0 to Detroit, the worst loss in franchise history.

1991 White Sox third baseman has maybe the best game of his life, going 4-for-6 with two doubles, two home runs, three runs, and six RBIs in the team’s 14-3 beating of the Brewers. It’s the first of 21 multi-home run games for Ventura.

1993 It’s the big league debut for Raul Mondesi.

1994 For the first time ever, a game at the Kingdome postponed, as four tiles fall to the field during Mariners-Oriole game.

1998 Carlos Delgado becomes the first player to launch a ball into the Skydome’s fifth deck.

1998 Slap hitter Elmer Valo dies at age 77.

1999 For the second straight day, Scott Rolen homers twice in a game.

2000 It’s the big league debut for the troubled and talented (but mostly troubled) outfielder Milton Bradley.

2000 The Rangers trade Esteban Loaiza to the Blue Jays for Michael Young and another player. This move works well for Texas.

2001 Jeff Kent belts the first of two career walk-off home runs.

2001 The Rockies trade Todd Walker to the Reds.

2002 Vladimir Guerrero gets his 1,000th hit.

2002 Kenny Lofton collects his 100th home run.

2002 Robin Ventura, who has just 23 HBP in his career, has two in one game.

2004 Pacific Coast League player Tagg Bozied hits the worst walk-off grand slam ever. How can a walk-off slam be bad? Simple: he jumps for joy at home, and ruptures a tendon in his left knee in the process. He’ll never make it to the big leagues.

2004 The Mariners send Rich Aurilia to the Padres as part of a conditional deal.

2006 Greg Maddux loses his 200th game for a career record of 325-200. It comes in a Wrigley Field duel with fellow 300-game winner, Roger Clemens. Houston wins, 4-2. I was at that game. Not great pitching, but the best fielding performance by a pitcher I’ve ever seen. Maddux had a slew of assists, and at one point got a standing ovation for his glove work. Don’t see that too often for pitchers.

2008 Longtime sportswriter Jerome Holtzman dies at age 81.

2008 A New York-Penn League game sees a pinch hitter face the game’s first ambidextrous pitcher. The pitcher is set to pitch with one arm, so the hitter faces him to get the platoon advantage, so the pitcher switches to the other arm, so the batter switches sides of the plate. And so on. Finally, the umps decided the batter needs to declare how he’ll hit before the at bat begins.

2008 Evan Longoria wins the battle versus Roy Halladay, nailing a grand slam on the 10th pitch of an at bat. It’s the first slam Halladay has allowed in five years.

2009 The Angels beat the A’s 1-0 in 10 innings on a Bobby Abreu homer. Brett Anderson gives it up in a complete game loss. He had a perfect game until the seventh—when Abreu singles.

2009 The Twins signs free agent second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, who is aging stunningly well, but nearly done anyway.

2012 For the third time this year, White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana gets a no-decision despite pitching eight shutout innings. That hasn’t happened to any pitcher since 1900.

2012 The Royals sign free agent catcher Jason Kendall.

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Comments

  1. Detroit Michael said...

    1973 was a long time ago.  Now, if a starter has a no-hitter, the manager might give him extra rest, not start him 4 days later.

    The Johnny Vander Meer feat always reminds me of Dave Stieb, who last no-hitters with 2 outs in the ninth inning on consecutive starts.

  2. Chris J. said...

    Detroit Michael—I remember that.  And one of them he lost on a weird, fluke hop over the second baseman’s head.  The ball hit where the turf met the infield in Toronto (or something like that) and jumped up like eight feet in the air.

  3. Paul G. said...

    There is a legend that the actual person razing Red Jones was a ventriloquist in the stands, which resulted in him continuing to be mocked from the bench after it was empty.  Probably a myth but one of those that you wish was true.

    (You need to clean up some of the entries for spelling, missing words, etc.)

  4. Michael Caragliano said...

    Ryan’s entire 1973 season was eye-popping on so many levels, but here’s a thought…. Ryan struck out a record 383 batters that year; how much closer to 400 strikeouts could he have come if the DH hadn’t been introduced that year? Let’s play it conservative and say one extra strikeout every other start with the pitcher still hitting. Ryan made 39 starts, so 19 or 20 extra K’s puts him 402 or 403. Staggering, right?

  5. aweb said...

    Delgado in 1998 became the first lefty to hit one into the fifth deck, I assume. Canseco did it first, rather famously, in the playoffs. And Joe Carter did it, somehow…there may have been another righty by that point.

  6. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    Michael:  Actually, the most recent issue of SABR’s Baseball Research Journal takes on this question.  Paul Hensler went game by game, not only adding strikeouts for pitchers but subtracting them for designated hitters who wouldn’t have been batting (except as pinch-hitters, and he takes this into account as well).  It’s pretty thorough, if also pretty subjective.

  7. Dennis Bedard said...

    Re: Cy Young.  Let us not forget.  He holds the all time loss record at 312.  A record that will never be broken.

  8. John C said...

    Actually, if Ryan had made it through nine innings without allowing a hit, he would have been credited with a no-hitter even if he allowed a hit in extra innings. He would have been retroactively stripped by a rules change in the early 1990s, but in 1973, he would have been credited with back-to-back no-hitters and would have remained so for many years.

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