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Harmon Killebrew On David Letterman!?

With the appearance of Joe Mauer last week on Jimmy Fallon, I was reminded of another episode of a famous Twin who appeared on late ni...

Monday, August 8, 2016

Twins Killers: Nolan Ryan No-Hits The Twins-Sept. 28, 1974

In December, 1971, promising but erratic flamethrowing righthander Nolan Ryan was traded from the New York Mets to the California Angels for former all-star shortstop, "Mr. Angel" Jim Fregosi. It has become celebrated as being among the most one-sided trades in baseball history, as the Ryan Express would roar out of station in that '72 season, while Fregosi was careening down the backtracks of of his career. Ryan's career in California may have started slowly, with ragged results, as evidenced in this Misc. Baseball post, but it gathered steam very shortly.

Ryan entered station in a Los Angeles/Anaheim Hollywood culture of the Nicholsons, Polanskis, hedonism, the burgeoning rock music and porn movie industries, along with the other local sin and depravity - the light-hitting Angels roster of the early 1970s, to be specific.

The Angels from 1972 through 1976 fielded some of the most pathetic offenses of the modern era, ranking last in runs scored for five seasons running. They under-performed the AL team scoring average by massive deficits in each season, amassing a cumulative .466 winning percentage in that time.

Coming into this game, they were second to last in the league in scoring (3.82* runs/gm) - a situation they would rectify shortly in the remaining games that year - and their best offensive player had been 38 year-old, future Hall Of Famer Frank Robinson (with a .251/.371/.461 slash line, 20 homers, 63 RBI) - and he wasn't even on the roster, having been traded to Cleveland two weeks previously.

*Boston led AL, finishing with 4.3 runs/gm - scored 696 in 1974 to Angel's 618 (3.79 runs/Gm)

But with Ryan added to the rotation, they had a thoroughbread that would turn them into a .687 team during games he started (147) in that 5 year span. For the record, Ryan had already pitched some milestone games versus Minnesota already. There was his very first American League start on April 18, 1972, a 2-0, complete game 4-hitter; also, he had beaten Koufax's old season strikeout mark in his last start of 1973, tossing an 11-inning, 16 K performance to finish with 383. But none was more dominating than this "air it out" (his words) no-hitter...

First, Some career numbers from the chief pitching Twins Killer of All-Time!

The all-time pitching Twins Killers appears in chart form later in this post. My claim is that Nolan Ryan would've EASILY bested Mark Buehrle in career wins versus Minnesota had he not missed 9 seasons while pitching in the National League (1980-88).

Minnesota Twins2011.6452.773837214296.020510291141773361.29110.21.90
Generated 7/10/2016.

Nolan Ryan38123610381022053551439191773361.90.197.318.281.600.277
Provided by Baseball-Reference.comView Original Table
Generated 7/10/2016.

As it is, I would find it hard to fathom anyone forwarding someone else as a more daunting pitcher for the Twins [substitute any other opposing team of choice] to face in their history.

THE "A" stands for ANNIHILATE
Ryan rode roughshod on the Twins in this colossal effort before 10,872 fans at Anaheim Stadium, AKA,, "The Big A," on Saturday night, September 28, 1974 (BBRefbox). His third no-hitter came against the Minnesota Twins, and was his third in as many years. As in his third of his career SEVEN. Say that out loud to yourself, and you realize that he had to have been, arguably, the most dominating pitcher in history in multiple respects. It was an 8 walk, 15 strikeout, 158 PITCH!!,* 94 game score game for the the-27 year old phenomenon. All those pitches in a tidy 2:22...I can only imagine how the loudest fans in the 10,000 + in attendance could have made themselves heard all over the ballpark, informing the Angels how badly they sucked, or how unflattering Harmon was in doubleknit uniform. Besides the option of sitting nearly anywhere they wanted in the mostly-empty Big A ball park of the 1970s.

* Los Angeles Herald Examiner factoid
So, imagine Bobby Darwin's chagrin, facing
this guy in the twilight shadows.
Thinking even HE didn't even know
where his pitches were headed

He struck out the side in the first AND second innings. Larry Hisle, Bobby Darwin (twice looking), and Pat Bourque each struck out three times that night, and eventual Hall Of Famer Rod Carew did that twice. Steve Brye was the only Twins hitter to get into scoring position, two times via walks that night. Harmon Killebrew, appeared briefly against Ryan as a pinch hitter for Bourque in the 9th. It should be stated that this was NOT a classically well-played game. The Twins in the field did not distinguish themselves messing up key plays, i.e., Steve Braun's interference with the baserunner in the 3rd, botching a rundown, and Luis Gomez's mishandled relay throw from rightfielder Darwin in the 4th; those plays allowed 3 of the 4 Angels runs to score. Meanwhile, the Angels were baserunning butchers, running themselves out of innings in each of the aforementioned frames. But it was all rendered meaningless by the man on the mound.

Three strikeouts apiece for Bourque, Darwin, and Hisle that night, and two for Carew.
If "The Ryan Express"awarded frequent punch out points for its riders,
 these guys would have hit the jackpot. "All aboard!"

There really was NOTHING close to a hit, unless we count Glenn Borgmann's 7th inning flyout to left, caught on the run by leftfielder John Balaz. Ryan blew through the 8th and 9th innings, was stalled  momentarily by pinch hitter Harmon Killebrew's walk, but placed an exclamation mark on this classic game with a game-ending strike out of Eric Soderholm. Out of the 158 pitches Ryan threw, his walks and strikeouts alone were good for 77 pitches, at minimum. "Airing it out," indeed.

The Angels came into this game at 64-94, last in the American League's Western Division, a .405 winning percentage, averaging 3.82 runs per game (5th worst in the Majors). They had very few bright spots on the roster they could parlay into trade cache, but there was no way they would part with a gem like Nolan Ryan

For 1974 Ryan had a 5.9 WAR, K'd 367, pitched 332.2 innings, had 26 complete games, faced 1,392 batters, finished third in the AL Cy Young balloting (LOL!!) and...walked 202 batters. For that one stat alone, my closest friend and I agreed he would blow his arm out, amassing all those strikeouts and free passes. Such young, baseball sages were we. Who would have guessed the eventual 300 game winner would win another 233 games over the next 19 years, before he retired after the '93 season? Not me, I'll tell you that...

September 28, 1974: Nolan Ryan tosses third career no-hitter

"I knew this would probably be my last start of the season," remarked California Angels speedballer Nolan Ryan. "I said to [catcher] Tom Egan, 'I think I'll let it all hang out. What do I have to lose?'" 1 The Ryan Express overpowered the Minnesota Twins, striking out 15, and also overcame eight walks to conclude the season with a no-hitter, the third in his last 72 starts.
Dave Chalk and Tom Egan congratulate
The entire Angels bench and map of California engulf Ryan

The [Helena] Independant Record and the Independant Press Telegram apply some on-the-spot coverage from that game, and specifics can be found at Baseball Reference. Here is the PDF document for the embedded (see below) Sporting News story, October 12, 1974 (enlarging controls (+), bottom of screen).

(Sorted by total decisions, lifetime, not incl. no-decisions (of course)).

Rk Player Gms

1 Mark Buehrle 49 Ind. Games 30 19 .612 3.75 49 6 1 334.0 354 158 139 33 65 188 1.25 2.7
2 Frank Tanana 39 Ind. Games 19 20 .487 4.26 39 13 3 262.0 276 131 124 26 76 148 1.34 0.6
3 Chuck Finley 39 Ind. Games 22 17 .564 3.49 38 6 2 265.2 261 125 103 17 86 195 1.31 1.6
4 Catfish Hunter 37 Ind. Games 19 18 .514 4.31 36 16 1 259.0 233 132 124 43 60 160 1.13 -1.6
5 Roger Clemens 37 Ind. Games 24 13 .649 2.86 37 6 2 261.1 210 92 83 11 80 227 1.11 5.2
6 Luis Tiant 36 Ind. Games 19 17 .528 3.87 35 15 3 246.1 230 111 106 21 78 203 1.25 2.2
7 Jack Morris 35 Ind. Games 23 12 .657 3.31 34 15 3 255.2 209 100 94 22 66 156 1.08 3.1
8 Mel Stottlemyre 34 Ind. Games 22 12 .647 3.18 34 18 2 257.2 254 102 91 22 57 103 1.21 2.7
9 Paul Splittorff 34 Ind. Games 18 16 .529 3.98 34 9 1 212.2 236 104 94 13 62 103 1.40 0.5
10 Jim Palmer 33 Ind. Games 21 12 .636 2.54 30 14 4 233.2 187 77 66 17 75 133 1.12 2.9
11 Joe Horlen 32 Ind. Games 12 20 .375 4.65 27 8 3 172.1 189 93 89 18 41 71 1.33 -2.0
12 Nolan Ryan 31 Ind. Games 20 11 .645 2.71 31 21 4 246.0 165 83 74 12 146 280 1.26 3.8
13 Wilbur Wood 30 Ind. Games 19 11 .633 3.28 22 8 1 178.1 181 77 65 14 44 85 1.26 0.9
14 Mike Flanagan 30 Ind. Games 17 13 .567 3.67 28 9 0 201.0 188 94 82 17 71 106 1.29 1.8
15 Mike Mussina 28 Ind. Games 22 6 .786 2.81 28 6 4 205.1 182 71 64 15 44 161 1.10 4.1
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/25/2016.

Here's a look at the young, untamed Ryan from August 8, 1974. He was on 
the verge of no-hitting the White Sox , with Sox announcer Harry Caray uttering 
the phrase "holy cow!" 700 times. Jim Kaat would get a 
decision in this game as a White Sox pitcher. Note the wild quality of this pitching 
sequence, from the 9th inning, AND note the huge A$$ uniform numbers
on the backs of the White Sox! Imagine - Ryan again having TWO NO HITTERS
IN ONE SEASON, as he did in 1973!!

An afterthought: I was recalling Rod Carew summarizing his matchups against Ryan; in his autobiography, he said that he had more trouble with The Express earlier in his career, but when he adopted a lower crouch stance, it forced Ryan to bring the ball down, forcing his famous fastball to flatten out somewhat. Whatever the case, that memory led to that of the Carew-Tony Gwynn debate, regarding which player was the better hitter. Not that this is conclusive in and of itself, but here are their career totals batting against Nolan Ryan:

Tony Gynn676319010639.302.328.333.662
Generated 8/5/2016.

Rod Carew1099328322111529.301.398.441.839
Generated 8/5/2016.

Make of this what you want. I would tend to conclude that the Ryan Tony Gwynn saw was a better, more refined pitcher (see this wonky anaylis of Ryan's mechanics) by the time he came into the National League in 1984, one more able to set up a batter with his arsenal. Carew was long gone by the time Ryan returned to the AL in 1989, but I'd venture to say the matchup, had Carew been still active, would have been even more interesting given the added savvy and gamesmanship each had acquired over time.

As it was, it's only a fascinating sidebar to a long, and storied career. Add Nolan Ryan to Sandy Koufax as a prime, pitching Twins Killer!

"So long, Everybody!" - Herb Carneal

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