Nolan Ryan’s Last Moment of Glory was at Cleveland Stadium

Nolan Ryan turned 70 yesterday.

In a career that included some ridiculous numbers – 5,714 (strikeouts – an average of more than one an inning), 7 (no-hitters – he took another five into the ninth inning before losing them), 1 (ass-kicking of Robin Ventura, young enough to be his son) – that might be the most ridiculous one. His KIDS are old enough to have gotten into that stage that they’ve gone from baseball players to executives (his son Reid is president of the Houston Astros).

Former Indian Satchel Paige’s autobiography was titled “Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever,” but for a while, it looked like Ryan might actually do it. He broke in with the Mets as a wild 19-year-old in 1966 and played 27 years in the Major Leagues (second across all major league sports only to Gordie Howe, whose hockey career spanned 32 years).

But as the 1993 season dawned, he announced to his team, the Texas Rangers, and the public, that he was retiring. Before Derek Jeter, before Mariano Rivera, before David Ortiz, he embarked on a farewell tour that would make two stops in Cleveland – in May and in August. That year was also a farewell to Cleveland Stadium for the Indians, who would move into a new baseball-only ballpark built on the site of the city’s old Central Market.

In fact, Ryan got his last win in Cleveland, before a Sunday afternoon crowd of nearly 61,000 on August 15, 1993.

The Indians lineup that day contained a lot of players who would go on to do great things for the Indians. Jose Mesa – then still trying to make it as a starter, got the nod on the hill. He didn’t have a bad day, giving up four runs – two on a first-inning home run by Juan Gonzalez – while striking out three and walking two. But Ryan was better. In seven innings, he gave up one run on two hits.

Even at 46, he was still capable of bringing the heat, hitting 90 on the radar gun, but he had become a smarter pitcher in his career, holding the Indians in check with a mix of off-speed pitches and change-ups. Indians reporter Paul Hoynes said Ryan got three standing ovations, each louder than the one before. “The only things missing were a horse for Ryan to ride and a sunset to ride into,” he wrote.

It was his first win in almost a month – and his first win in Cleveland in 16 years (he had spent nine of those in the National League with Houston, in the days before regular season interleague play).

It was his last hurrah. After three more no-decisions, the Ryan Express pulled into the station with an ignominious end a month later. In a game against the Mariners at the Kingdome, he allowed five runs and couldn’t even retire a batter before hearing a pop in his right elbow. He had torn a ligament. He was deprived the opportunity to make a final start in front of the fans in Arlington.

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