It had been the two most frustrating months of Nolan Ryan's brilliant career. Although the all-time strikeout king was striking out batters at a faster clip than he did throughout his career, the 40-year-old right-hander couldn't win for losing.
As his losing streak continued, Manager Hal Lanier talked about taking Ryan out of the rotation and making him the long relief man.
It was nearly the final blow for a pitcher who had pitched well but had been the victim of his teammates' silent bats.
The frustration subsided Tuesday night at Houston when Ryan held the slumping St. Louis Cardinals to three hits in seven innings and ended his eight-game losing streak in a 4-0 victory.
Although he had pitched well far more times than poorly, Ryan had not won a game since June 12. But when Alan Ashby hit a two-run home run off Danny Cox (8-4), Ryan's dry spell, at long last, was over.
Dave Smith pitched two shutout innings after Ryan struck out nine and walked only two to improve his record to 5-13. With a few runs here and there, that record could be reversed.
On June 12, Ryan held the Dodgers to five hits and a run in 7 innings, striking out 11 and walking none for his second consecutive victory.
Little did anyone realize that after striking out 23, walking none and giving up one run and 10 hits in 14 innings, he was to fail to win in his next 11 starts.
He didn't win and usually lost, although in seven of those starts he gave up either one or two earned runs. Ryan gave up more than three earned runs in only two of the 11 starts.
In four of his defeats the Astros scored one run, in another they were shut out. It is no wonder that Ryan, who has 4,467 strikeouts in 4,265 innings, balked at pitching in relief. This season, he has struck out 190 in 150 innings.
Since 1968, when he joined the New York Mets, Ryan has thrown the ball harder than any pitcher in the game. There is no sign that he is ready to stop doing that. He just needed a little luck.
"This is an omen, the rest of the National League West better look out for the Astros. We've turned it around," Ryan said.
"I didn't worry about it (the losing streak) that much. It was just one of those things that sooner or later was going to come. I think the guys felt worse about it than I did."
Lanier said he took Ryan out after seven because he had reached his limit in number of pitches he's allowed.
It was only the second time this season the Cardinals have been shut out and it cut their lead in the East to three games over the Montreal Expos and 3 1/2 over the defending World Series champion New York Mets.
The Astros, who have won five in a row, pulled to within 1 1/2 games of Cincinnati and San Francisco, who are tied in the West.
New York 7, San Francisco 2--In the first 10 days after his bat was confiscated and finally ruled legal, Howard Johnson went into his worst slump of the season.
For the next eight games, he didn't hit a home run and he batted less than .200. He even sat out a game.
Sunday at Chicago, when the Mets scored 23 runs, Johnson, as did the other Mets, came out of his hitting slump.
In this game at New York, Johnson hit a three-run home run to break a 2-2 tie. Johnson has 29 home runs, tops among third basemen in the National League.
The three runs batted in gave Johnson 80 for the season, a Mets' record for third basemen.
Kevin McReynolds and Tim Teufel also hit home runs to help Dwight Gooden win his 10th. Gooden, who singled in a run in the second, held the Giants to six hits and only one earned run in seven innings.
Barry Bonds hit two home runs and drove in three runs, but it was a pinch-hit home run by John Cangelosi, his first in the National League, that broke a 4-4 tie in the seventh.
Bob Walk (5-1) gave up four runs and seven hits in six innings, but only two runs were earned and he won his third in a row as a starter.
Atlanta 9, Chicago 5--Dion James drove in four runs, three with his ninth home run, helping the Braves end a five-game losing streak in this game at Atlanta.
Rick Mahler (7-12) gave up one run in 3 innings to win in relief for the first time since 1981.
San Diego 9, Philadelphia 4--John Kruk doubled with the bases loaded in the 11th inning at Philadelphia to drive in two runs, and Benito Santiago followed with a three-run home run.
Kruk drove in five runs, and Santiago drove in four runs with two home runs.
Rich Gossage, the fourth Padre pitcher, pitched two shutout innings to win it.