By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 1999
Most pitchers his age had long ago become ex-pitchers. But Nolan Ryan wasn't most pitchers. He was unlike any other.
On May 1, 1991, exactly 100 days past his 44th birthday, the Texas Rangers right-hander stepped onto the Arlington Stadium mound, faced the Toronto Blue Jays, baseball's best hitting team, and pitched the seventh no-hitter of his Hall of Fame career.
Not bad for a guy who, earlier that day, had told pitching coach Tom House, "I feel old today. My back hurts, my heel hurts. I don't feel good. "It was one of those days when I knew how old I was when I woke up," he said. "I could feel every minute of these 44 years."
"He was moaning and groaning all over the place before the game," catcher Mike Stanley said. And House told manager Bobby Valentine: "Nolan's hurting. Don't expect too much."
Ryan struck out 16 batters, a Rangers record that still stands, and was two walks shy of a perfect game.
Nine weeks later, Ryan nearly added to his phenomenal list. He retired the first 18 Angels before losing the perfect game in the seventh and, one inning later, what would have been his eighth no-hitter.
"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."
He hadn't always had great stuff. The New York Mets' 10th-round pick in the 1965 draft, had four-plus seasons of mediocrity (29-38) with them before being shipped to the Angels for infielder Jim Fregosi in what is generally considered -- certainly by Mets fans -- one of the worst trades in the history of baseball. After eight seasons with the Angels, Ryan signed as a free agent with Houston before the 1980 season and with the Rangers nine years later.
By then, he had pitched four no-hitters for the Angels and one for the Astros. No. 6, with Texas, came in 1990 against Oakland.
About 33,000 fans were present when the Rangers game against Toronto began. But as word got out that Ryan was at it again, hundreds more descended on the stadium, causing a traffic jam and forcing the club to send ticket-sellers out on foot to accommodate them -- and to prevent them from scaling the fences, as some did.
One by one the batters went down. With the crowd chanting "No-lan! No-lan!" in the ninth inning, Ryan retired the first two batters on routine grounders, then ended the game by striking out Roberto Alomar -- who wasn't even born when Ryan made his major-league debut in 1966 with the Mets.
Half an hour after the game, fans were milling about, searching stadium garbage cans for programs, ticket stubs and other paraphernalia. By noon the next day, the Rangers had received 350 calls from collectors across the country asking if they could buy the unused tickets. (They couldn't).
-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.