Nolan Ryan became the fourth pitcher in major league history to strike out 3,000 men tonight, but, as has often been the case throughout his career, the achievement was overshadowed by a defeat.
Ryan joined Walter Johnson, Gaylord Perry and Bob Gibson in the 3,000 strikeout club in the bottom of the second inning when he struck out Cesar Geronimo on a high inside fast ball. Ironically, Geronimo also was Gibson's 3,000th victim on July 17, 1974.
The strikeout was Ryan's third of the night. He had fanned Ken Griffey and Dan Driessen in the first inning. In the second, Ray Knight walked on a 3-2 pitch, bringing up Geronimo.
The 32-year-old center fielder fouled off a pitch, took a ball, took a strike, then went down swinging. The game was stopped as catcher Allen Ashby presented the ball to Ryan, who received a standing ovation from the sweltering crowd of 37,047 in Riverfront Stadium.
While the crowd cheered, many of the Reds walked over to "congratulate" Geronimo and urged him to come out of the dugout to tip his cap to the crowd. Geronimo stayed seated.
Ryan, 33, had little time to enjoy the accomplishment. After Geronimo, he walked Junior Kennedy, moving Knigth to second. Both advanced on catcher Joe Nolan's ground out. And both scored when Ryan's pitching opponent, Charlie Liebrandt, grounded a single into center field, tripling his season's RBI total.
The Reds extended their lead to 3-0 in the third on Dan Driessen's ninth homer this year, then knocked out Ryan with three runs in the fifth.
Ryan left after 4 1/2 innings, having allowed six runs on five hits.He struck out six, but walked seven and four of those walked scored. In addition to his 3,003 strikeouts, Ryan now has walked 1,173 in his 13-year career.
Ryan's record for the season dropped to 5-6. His career record is 172-165.
Winning pitcher Leibrandt (8-4) pitched a four-hitter for the Reds, retiring 14 men in a row at one point. He lost his shutout in the seventh inning on a Cesar Cedano home run. Third-place Cincinnati moved to 5 1/2 games of First-place Houston.
"Obviously getting beat takes the edge off the 3,000," Ryan said. "I was certainly aware of it before the game but I went out just trying to win and pitch well. I didn't do either."