ARLINGTON -- Nolan Ryan was 44 years old when he took the mound on May 1, 1991. He was 2-2 with a 3.94 ERA in his first four starts of that season, and he was facing the Toronto Blue Jays, a franchise on the verge of greatness. The Jays' lineup that night at Arlington Stadium included John Olerud, Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. Jimmy Key was on the mound, and the Blue Jays were 12-9 after one month on their way to the first of three successive division titles. "I knew Toronto had improved considerably, and [they] were one of the best clubs in the league," Ryan said. "So you certainly didn't anticipate anything like that happening."
He meant anything like throwing a no-hitter. Ryan had thrown six of them in his career, including one less than a year before. But that was one of the farthest things from his mind when he took the mound before 33,439 fans at Arlington Stadium. "I really thought that part of my career was behind me," Ryan said. He was wrong. Ryan still had one more in him. In another dominating performance that symbolized his Hall of Fame career, Ryan became the oldest player in history to throw a no-hitter. Ryan walked just two batters and struck out 16 in the Rangers' 3-0 victory. The Rangers will mark the 18th anniversary of Ryan's seventh no-hitter this weekend when they face the White Sox, beginning with Big Bang Fireworks on Friday. The show will be set to the music of some of Ryan's favorite artists, including Johnny Gimble, Neal McCoy and George Strait. On Saturday, the first 20,000 fans will receive a Nolan Ryan Replica Statue courtesy of Southwest Airlines. Ryan's seventh no-hitter was also his second for the Rangers, but the first in Arlington. No. 6 took place the previous season in Oakland. No. 7 also took place on Arlington Appreciation Night. "I was glad of the fact I was in that position," Ryan said. "If I was going to throw a no-hitter, I was hoping it would happen in Arlington." As Ryan got ready for the game, he told pitching coach Tom House to watch him carefully. "I feel old today," Ryan told House in the bullpen. "My back hurts, my heel hurts, I don't feel good." Said catcher Mike Stanley afterwards, "He was moaning and groaning all over the place before the game." "It was one of those days when I knew how old I was when I woke up," Ryan said. "I could feel every minute of these 44 years." Ryan made it through the first inning all right. He walked Kelly Gruber with two outs, but -- after the Rangers botched a pickoff -- got Joe Carter out on a popup. He then struck out the side in the second inning by mowing down Olerud, Mark Whiten and Glenallen Hill. In the third, the Blue Jays were unable to put the ball in fair territory. Greg Myers fouled out, and then Ryan struck out Manny Lee and Devon White. The Ryan Express was rolling down the tracks. At that point, he walked into the Rangers' dugout and told his teammates, "Give me one, that's all I need." The Rangers scored three runs in the third, as Ruben Sierra hit a two-run home run. Now the drama was squarely on Ryan. Lee provided the biggest scare in the sixth inning, and it wasn't much of a scare. He hit a blooper to center fielder, but Gary Pettis -- a five-time Gold Glove winner -- came racing in and caught the ball at knee level. It was hardly a highlight-reel catch, except for the extraordinary circumstances. Whiten was Ryan's toughest out. He flied to deep center in the fifth and lined hard to right in his final out. Carter was the only other baserunner. He walked with two out in the seventh, but Olerud then fouled out. Ryan struck out two more in the eighth. That left Lee, White and Alomar in the ninth. "Obviously, I remember the last three outs in the last inning because of the guys that were up that inning," Ryan said. "They had speed and the ability to make contact with the bat. I knew they weren't strikeout guys. If they hit it on the ground, they had a chance to beat it out." Lee and White both hit the ball on the ground, but second baseman Julio Franco made both plays. Ryan then struck out Roberto Alomar to end it and was carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates. Now, 18 years later, another celebration is scheduled for this weekend.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.