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On This Date in Sports September 27, 1973: Nolan 383

With 16 strikeouts in his final start of the season, Nolan Ryan of the California Angels breaks the single-season record with 383 strikeouts in a 5-4 win over the Minnesota Twins. The previous record was 382 strikeouts, set by Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965. Nolan Ryan posted a record of 21-6 with a 2.87 ERA and finished second in Cy Young voting behind Jim Palmer of the Baltimore Orioles.

Lynn Nolan Ryan was born in Refugio, Texas, on January 31, 1947. A High School star in Alvin, Texas, Ryan was drafted by the New York Mets in the 12th round of the 1965 draft. Upon making his debut with the Mets in 1966, Nolan Ryan caught everyone’s attention with his fastball, clocking over 100 mph. As good as his arm was, Nolan Ryan had no idea how to harness it and often frustrated the team in his five seasons with the Mets. While Nolan Ryan’s only World Series appearance came in 1969, including a save in Game 3, his time in New York was far from stellar as he posted a record of 29-38 with an ERA of 3.58 with the Mets.

On December 10, 1971, the Mets traded Nolan Ryan to the California Angels with three minor leaguers for Jim Fregosi. Arriving in Anaheim, Ryan learned to harness his stuff thanks to the guidance of Angels Pitching Coach Jimmy Reese. In his first season in Anaheim, Nolan Ryan was an All-Star with a record of 19-16 and an ERA of 2.28 with a league-leading 328 strikeouts.

After topping 300 strikeouts and leading the league for the first time in his career in 1972, Nolan Ryan began the 1973 season with double-digit strikeouts in his first three games of the season. On May 15th, against the Kansas City Royals, Nolan Ryan tossed the first no-hitter of his career as the Angels recorded a 3-0 win on the road. Ryan recorded 12 strikeouts in the game, starting a string of four straight games with ten or more strikeouts. Nolan Ryan added a second No-Hitter on July 15th, striking out 17 in a 6-0 road win over the Detroit Tigers. Over the season's final two months, double-digit strikeout games became routine for Nolan Ryan, as he did in six of his last seven games.

Needing 15 strikeouts to equal the record of 382 strikeouts set by Sandy Koufax in 1965, Nolan Ryan took the mound at Anaheim Stadium for the Angles, managed by Bobby Winkles, against the Minnesota Twins managed by Frank Quilici, who started Dave Goltz. Things started poorly for Ryan, as the first four Twins reached base, with three runs scoring on an RBI single by Tony Oliva and a two-run double by Harmon Killebrew. He would settle down, striking out three batters around a walk the rest of the inning. In the bottom of the first, the Angels mirrored the Twins, inning with the first four batters reaching base, leading to a three-run inning with RBI from Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, and Ken Barry. Ryan added two strikeouts in the second and one in the third, while the Angels took a 4-3 lead on an RBI by Tom McCraw. 

Nolan struck out the side in the fourth and two in the fifth to sit four away from the record as the game became official. Jerry Terrell drove home the tying run for Minnesota in the sixth inning, as Nolan Ryan was stuck on 11 Ks. In the seventh, Ryan again recorded three strikeouts while giving up a walk and a single. In the eighth, Ryan equaled Koufax’s record by getting Steve Byre with two runners in scoring position. The game remained tied 4-4, as Nolan Ryan remained tied with Sandy Koufax after failing to record a strikeout in the ninth and tenth innings. Finally, in the 11th inning, Nolan Ryan fanned Rich Reese, with Rod Carew representing the go-ahead run on second. Reese would be the last final batter Ryan faced on the season. In the bottom of the 11th, the Angels would win the game with a walk-off double by Richie Scheinblum against Bill Campbell, scoring McCraw, who got a one-out single earlier.

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The 383 strikeouts would be just the start of records to fall for Nolan Ryan, as he led the league in Ks 11 times, including as a 43-year-old in 1990 with the Texas Rangers. With the Houston Astros in 1985, Nolan Ryan became the first pitcher to record 4,000 career strikeouts, ending as he won a two-year battle with Steve Carlton to become baseball’s strikeout king. Nolan Ryan would play until 1993, posting a lifetime record of 324-292, with a 3.19 ERA and a record 5,714 strikeouts, along with seven career No-Hitters.