Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
For the 103d time in his amazing career, California's Nolan Ryan, prince of the pure strikeout pitchers, fanned more than 10 battles in one game.
Tonight the total of Baltimore Orioles picked clean was 11, giving him 305 this season.
And again tonight - for the 129th time - Nolan Ryan lost.
The Orioles waited for the Angel's familiar flaws in control, concentration, judgment and temperament.
They not only beat Ryan, they pinned his ears back, 6-1.
The Orioles found the combination to Ryan, resembling a safecracker sitting for two hours listening to the tumblers fall into place.
In the first inning it was an Angel error, a steal, a wild pitch and a broken-bat scratch hit for a 1-0 Baltiumore lead.
For the next four innings the O's waited quietly as Ryan seemed unhittable, nipping corners with laser beam fast balls and ripping the bottom of the strike zone with curves.
But in the sixth Ryan pitched too fine, becoming cute with leadoff man Pat Kelly and walking him. Ken Singleton and Lee May loaded the bases with well-placed singles.
Ryan, beating his bubble gum and glaring for the signs, retired Eddie Murray on a soft sacrifice fly, then fanned Doug DeCinces and Billy Smith to escape with a 2-1 deficit.
As Singleton said, "Nolan's control keeps getting him in little jams, and sooner or later you know one is going to explode on him."
In the seventh the last tumbler clicked, the fuse reached the bomb, the door to a Baltimore victory fell open. Dave Skaggs opened with a double to the opposite field. Ryan might have gotten a free out on a sacrifice bunt, but he threw his second wild pitch of the night trying to confound Al Bumbry with an unbuntable low-inside curve. It found the dirt, then the backstop.
Losing his composure and aiming for those strikeout corners against singles-hitters Bumbry and Mark Belanger, Ryan walked both to load the bases.
The stage was set. Ryan, tuckered out a bit after 131 pitches, had given up five rather soft hits, five walks, three steals and two wild pitches.
Up came Kelly who had not produced a decent swing all night. But Ryan fell behind immediately, 1-0. Finally, after a night of trying to throw perfect pitches to unhittable spots. Ryan had to take something off, make sure he threw a strike and trust to a bit of luck. Ryan was ready to say those pitcher's last words, "Give me one easy out, please."
Kelly laid into the three-quarter speed Ryan Express and drove it high and handsome into the right field bleachers for his second grand slam of the year.
For the O's it was a well-done answer to New York's 5-3 victory over Kansas City earlier in the day. Their deficit in the American League East stayed at four games. For lefty Rudy May, slaughtered (27 runs in 26 innings) in his last five starts, it was a chance to cruise home with his second complete game in his last 16 starts.
Ryan was seeing his mediocre 139-129 pitching life pass before him, a familiar childhood nightmare.
Ryan's entire career has been an absolutist's dream. It has made Ryan rich and famous. Crowds show up because they know he never compromises. Every pitch is dedicated to setting up an eventual strikeout. Each game is Ryan's empty canvas on which he will paint a masterpiece.
Will he strike out 19 as he has three times? Will he pitch his fifth no-hitter, the goal he admits he sets before each game? Or will he invent something never seen before.
The other side of Ryan, the one that gives him dimension, is the way he continually touches a cord of sorrow. He is a knight of the mound, but his shield is cracked.
Ryan is a perpetual mystery in other clubhouses. How can a man who has struck out more than 300 men for five seasons be only games over .500 for his career?
Ryan has allowed fewer hits per game and struck out more per nine innings than any man in history. The league's batting average against him this year is .188. At his current pace, with eight more starts at least, he is ahead of the pace to break his record of 383 strikeouts in a season.
He has been 14-12 and 17-18 the last two years and is now 17-13 this time after his third straight loss.
"Ryan is 30-year-old who pitches like a 20-year-old," said the O's Singleton some time ago.
Opposing players make allowances for Ryan, either out of sympathy respect or simple fear. "He's never had good teams behind him," said Singleton.
"He's King Kong as far as I'm concerned," said DeCinces, after fanning three times on his birthday - all on curves.
"People have tried to talk to him. But he doesn't want to listen. He wants to call his game. He wants the catcher to sit on the corners at all times no matter what."
And on those lustrous nights he really is King Kong, Ryan is the ultimate pitcher, the man who has taken a great gift and perfected it, if only for one evening.
But on many another night such as this one, the patient safecrackers get to him and suddenly, the prince of pitchers has lost his crown.
And when that happens, Nolan Ryan walks calmly to the dugout. For a signature on the ugly canvas, he blows one final pink bubble and disappears.