Can it be that the most remarkable pitching arm in history is finally wearing out? Knowledgeable people have been expecting Nolan Ryan to run out of fastballs for nearly a decade, but he has just kept on throwing them at speeds of close to 100 m.p.h. for 20 years.
In what has been one of his worst seasons, the Houston Astros’ star is finally experiencing arm problems.
Ryan had to leave in the first inning Monday at Chicago with a strained shoulder. It was the second game in a row in which Ryan, 38, suffered a shoulder injury.
He gave up two runs before he had to leave, but the Astros rallied for a 7-2 victory over the Cubs. Another youngster from Southern California, Eric Bullock, hit a two-run pinch double in the fifth for his first hit in the majors and it was the game-winning hit. Bullock went to South Gate High School and was All-State at Harbor College.
Last Wednesday, also against the Cubs, Ryan developed a knot in his shoulder after striking out eight batters in 6 innings while ending his eight-game losing streak.
After Ryan’s performance, Cub Manager Jim Frey told the Associated Press: “He’s just one of the freaks. No one has thrown harder for a longer period of time. I remember seeing him play in the rookie league, and here it is 20 years later and he is still throwing as hard.”
Ryan, who has given up fewer than 6 1/2 hits per nine innings and has averaged better than a strikeout per inning, was timed at 97 m.p.h. on the pitch last week that hurt his shoulder.
Amazingly, for a man who throws so hard, Ryan has had little arm trouble. He had surgery to remove chips from his elbow in 1975 and had an elbow strain in the middle of the 1978 season. Otherwise, his injuries have been to his legs and his back.
Dr. Frank Jobe told The Times’ Chris Dufresne that Ryan had avoided arm trouble partly because he has “good pitching mechanics.” Jobe also said: “Ryan has first-class connective tissue, the cartilage and the tendons are good at tolerating stress.”
In a major league career that began with the New York Mets in 1968, Ryan has struck out more batters than anyone (4,061) and walked more (2,171).
After a good start this season (8-3 in mid-June), Ryan is 9-11. He has won only once since June 17. With the Astros out of the pennant race, they may decide to give Ryan the rest of this season off and hope he can regain his form next year.
New York 12, San Diego 4--Keith Hernandez, who hit a pinch home run in the ninth inning Sunday at San Francisco, was 5 for 5, including another home run in this game at San Diego.
Hernandez scored four runs and drove in three to move the Mets to within one game of first place in the East. The trouncing dropped the Padres into third place in the West, seven games behind the Dodgers.
Sid Fernandez (6-8) pitched his first complete game of the season, giving up just five hits and striking out six.
Rich Gossage, out for more than a month with an injury, pitched a scoreless ninth for the Padres.
Philadelphia 4, San Francisco 3--As Nolan Ryan was experiencing shoulder problems, Steve Carlton, his closest pursuer in strikeouts, made an impressive return at San Francisco.
In his first appearance since June 18, Carlton pitched five innings, gave up three hits, two of them bloopers, and struck out six. Carlton was sidelined by a rotator cuff injury and it was feared he would never pitch again.
Luis Aguayo’s pinch double in the 10th inning scored Tom Foley with the winning run as the Phillies won their fifth in a row.
Pittsburgh 5, Atlanta 4--Mike Brown picked a good spot for his first National League home run. It was a three-run blast in the first inning at Pittsburgh to start the Pirates on their way to victory.
The Pirates obtained Brown from the Angels on Aug. 2. The game marked the first time his father saw Brown play in the National League.
Cincinnati 4, St. Louis 1--Dave Parker hit a two-run home run at St. Louis to send the Cardinals, the leader in the East, down to their fourth loss in the last five games.
Joaquin Andujar (20-8) was the first pitcher in the majors to win 20, but he failed for the second time to win his 21st. Dave Browning held the Cardinals to four hits in 6 innings to win his 15th, most for any rookie in the majors.
Pete Rose went 0 for 3, but Willie McGee, the leading hitter in the majors, went 2 for 4, including his eighth home run. McGee is hitting .369.