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On This Date in Sports September 26, 1981: Nolan's Fifth

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Nolan Ryan of the Houston Astros becomes the first pitcher to throw five No Hitters as he blanks the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Astrodome 5-0. Ryan walked three batters and struck out 11 on the way to his fifth No-Hitter, improving to 10-5 on the season. Nolan Ryan previously shared the record of four careers No Hitters with Sandy Koufax. He later would pitch two more and finish his career with seven No Hitters.

Nolan Ryan was born in Alvin, Texas, on January 31, 1947. At 19, he made his first appearance in the majors with the New York Mets. While he was with the Mets, Nolan Ryan was seen as a pitcher with untapped potential, as he posted a 29-38 record with an ERA of 3.58 and 493 strikeouts in five seasons. He never seemed to be able to control his blazing fastball and was traded after the 1971 season to the California Angels for Jim Fregosi. In California, Nolan Ryan met with pitching coach Jimmy Reese who helped him reign in his control and become the most dominant strikeout pitcher in the history of baseball. In eight years with the Angels, Nolan Ryan posted a record of 138-121, with a 3.07 ERA and 2,416 strikeouts. In 1973, Ryan set a record with 383 strikeouts and threw the first two No-Hitters of his career. He would add No-Hitters in 1974 and 1975, equaling the four No-Hitter record set by Sandy Koufax from 1962-1965.

Following the 1979 season, Nolan Ryan became a free agent and signed with the Houston Astros. After the Astros won their first division title in 1980, Ryan had one of the best seasons of his career in 1981, as he led the National League with a 1.69 ERA in a season interrupted by a two-month strike. The strike benefited Houston as they struggled through the season’s first half. When the season resumed, a split season was set up, giving the second-half winner of the National League West a share of the division title. As they played the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Saturday Afternoon National Game of the week, the Astros led the West by a game and a half. Right from the start, Nolan was rollin’ as he struck out six batters in the first three innings, while three Dodgers reached base with walks. In the bottom of the third, the Astros got on the board with a two-run single by Alan Ashby. The score would remain 2-0 until the bottom of the eighth, when the Astros scored three times to break the game open with RBIs from Craig Reynolds, Phil Garner, and Jose Cruz.

Nolan Ryan did not allow a baserunner after the third inning. In the ninth inning, Ryan started the inning by striking out Reggie Smith. Kenny Landreaux bounced out to first with Harry Spillman recording an unassisted putout. Dusty Baker would make the final out, grounding out to third base with Art Howe making a perfect throw to Spillman to end the game. With the gem against the Dodgers, Nolan Ryan joins Cy Young and Jim Bunning as the third pitcher to throw a No-Hitter in both leagues.

Nolan Ryan would improve to 10-5 with the win and finished the year with a record of 11-5 as the Astros won the second-half division. The Astros won the first two games against the Dodgers in the Division Series but lost the last three in Los Angeles. The Dodgers would go to win the World Series. Nolan Ryan would pitch with the Astros for nine years before finishing his career with the Texas Rangers. While playing with the Rangers, Nolan Ryan, well past 40, threw another two No-Hitters in 1990 and 1991. He would retire with seven No Hitters, a record of 324-292, and a record 5,714 strikeouts in 1993. Six years later, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.