It’s no wonder that Nolan Ryan feels so comfortable in the Astrodome.
He’s safe from the hazards of the great outdoors, which he loves and has learned he must sometimes fear.
After Ryan’s six-hit, 3-2 win over the Padres on Wednesday night, the 38-year-old rancher/potential Hall of Fame pitcher was still answering questions about a strange non-baseball adventure he had last week.
This win improved Ryan’s record to 6-0 at home and 7-3 overall, but reporters still wanted to know about the bite.
And that’s not the bite on his curveball.
Ryan was bitten by a coyote on his left hand when he reached into a dog pen which housed three coyotes.
The bite required tests to see if Ryan was in any danger. Ryan is still awaiting the results, but he says he feels fine.
It’s opposing hitters who are in pain.
That’s especially true when Ryan is getting over his changeup and curveball as consistently as his 90-plus m.p.h. fastball.
The Padre hitters were forced to look for Ryan’s fastball and thereby make themselves susceptible to his off-speed pitches.
“Basically, they’re a fastball hitting team,” Ryan said, “so I tried to establish my changeup and curveball early. The last two innings, I threw basically fastballs.”
The Padres appeared to play into Ryan’s hands by hitting a lot of first pitches during the middle innings when he retired 12 hitters in a row. Ryan struck out five and walked two.
“When he’s throwing breaking pitches and changeups for strikes like he was tonight, it’s almost not fair,” Tim Flannery said. “He’s close to being unbeatable.”
Especially at home.
“I don’t feel any more comfortable pitching here,” Ryan said, “but it is a good pitchers’ ballpark because the ball doesn’t carry well here.”
Ryan’s record and playing at the Astrodome were probably a couple of the reasons why Padre Manager Dick Williams said it is sometimes necessary for a starting pitcher to hold a 1-0 lead if he is going to win.
Williams was referring to Padre starter and loser Eric Show (4-4), who is beginning to wonder if he will have any luck this season.
Show has not won since May 11. He has four no decisions and two losses during that span. In his last start on Friday night against the Reds, he left with a 2-0 lead after 7 innings. The Padres won 3-2 in 11 innings, but Show did not figure in the decision.
“Despite what the media reports, I think most of my games have been pretty good,” Show said. “I didn’t think they hit the ball that well tonight.
“Some people are luckier than others. I kind of begin to think it won’t change too much.”
On Wednesday night, Show allowed just two earned runs and six hits in seven innings. It was one big play in the bottom of the seventh that did him in.
With the score tied, 1-1, Terry Puhl bounced a one-out single up the middle. On a 1-1 pitch, Phil Garner (the seventh hitter in the lineup who was hitting .239) drove a high Show slider to right-center.
“I was way in front during my first two at-bats and I was trying to force myself to go through the middle or to right center,” Garner said.
Garner’s hit easily scored Puhl. And the way it turned out, it also scored Garner.
Right fielder Tony Gwynn threw to second baseman Flannery, whose relay to third hit a dead spot in the AstroTurf and scooted past Graig Nettles. The ball bounced toward the Padre dugout, and Garner headed home with what turned out to be the winning run. Flannery was charged with an error.
Nettles homered down the right-field line with two out and nobody out in the ninth to make it 3-2. But with the crowd of 15,978 cheering Ryan on, Martinez flew to center to give the Astros the rubber game of this three-game series.
“I thought this series was important for us from a psychological viewpoint because we need to play well against these guys and we need to reestablish ourselves as a .700 or .750 team at the Astrodome,” Garner said.
Early in the game, it looked like the Padres might be able to get to Ryan before he found his groove. San Diego took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on doubles by Kevin McReynolds and Garry Templeton.
With two out and McReynolds on second, Ryan elected to pitch to Templeton instead of walking him to get to Show. Templeton laced a run-scoring double to right-center.
In the top of the third, the Padres had an opportunity to get to Ryan before he took control of the game.
Flannery walked and Gwynn hit a pop fly single to left. After Steve Garvey forced Gwynn at second, Terry Kennedy got in front of an off-speed pitch and bounced into an inning-ending second base-to-shortstop double play.
The Astros carried that momentum into the home half of the third when Mark Bailey singled to right, Ryan bunted him to second and Bill Doran hit a run-scoring single to right.
It remained 1-1 until Garner’s hit in the seventh. By that time, it was a battle of wills and strong right arms.
“We had some chances, but we didn’t get it done,” Williams said. “My compliments to Ryan, who is a good competitor. Show pitched well, but Ryan pitched better.”
PADRES AT A GLANCE
Scorecard SECOND INNING
Padres--McReynolds doubled down the third-base line. Nettles popped to second. Martinez struck out. Templeton doubled to right-center, McReynolds scoring. Show struck out. One run, two hits, one left.
THIRD INNING Astros--Bailey singled to right. Ryan sacrificed Bailey to second. Doran singled to right, Bailey scoring. Reynolds forced Doran at second. Bass grounded out to the pitcher. One run, two hits, one left.
Astros--Pankovits bunted to the pitcher. Puhl singled to center. Garner tripled to right-center, Puhl scoring with Garner scoring on a throwing error by Tim Flannery. Bailey grounded to the pitcher. Ryan grounded to second. Two runs, two hits, none left.
Padres--With two out, Nettles homered to right, his sixth. Martinez flied to center. One run, one hit, none left.