Texas Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan has thrown more no-hitters (seven) than anyone else in Major League history. He also has had more potential no-hitters spoiled in the ninth inning (five) than anyone else in history.
And with that type of a history, Ryan admits, he honestly felt Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish was going to finish off a perfect game at Houston on Tuesday night once Darvish took the mound in the bottom of the ninth.
"The difference in a perfect game and a no-hitter is that if you don't have the perfect game, it means you have walked a few guys, so in that ninth inning you are facing the key guys in that other's team lineup for the fourth time," said Ryan. "The odds are they are going to get a hit.
"In a perfect game, you are facing the end of the lineup, unless there's a pinch-hitter, and the fact the Astros had no left-handed bats on the bench, I thought Yu would get it."
After Jason Castro and Carlos Corporan grounded out for the first two outs in the bottom of the inning, Marwin Gonzalez drove a fastball up the middle, between Darvish's legs into center field for a hit.
"That pitch was a bit up and out over the plate," said Ryan, who watched the game on television from his home in Georgetown, Texas. "I really thought [Darvish] was going to get it."
Instead, Darvish became the 11th pitcher in history to lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth, according to the research of SABR member Stew Thornley. There have been 23 official perfect games in MLB history.
It was the 36th time a pitcher lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth in the expansion era, which dates back to 1961, the year of the addition of the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators, who later moved to Texas and became the Rangers.
Ryan's five ninth-inning no-hitter misses are one more than former Toronto pitcher Dave Stieb, whose struggle to get a no-hitter included back-to-back starts in 1988 at Cleveland on Sept. 24 and against Baltimore on Sept. 30 in which he did not give up a hit until there were two outs in the ninth. As a team, Toronto, since its inception in '77, has had 10 pitchers lose no-hitters in the ninth.
The Rangers have had four complete-game no-hit efforts end in the ninth. In addition to Darvish, Charlie Hough lost a no-hit bid against the Angels on June 16, 1986, and Ryan lost two in the ninth inning in '89 -- at Toronto on April 23, and against Detroit on Aug. 10.
Ryan lost five no-hit bids in his career in the ninth, all with one out. The one that he remembers most vividly was with the Rangers against Detroit. Tigers first baseman Dave Bergman singled with one out.
"Bergy had been a teammate of mine [with Houston]," said Ryan. "I knew him. I should have gone right at him with a fastball, but for some reason I felt like I needed to show him a curveball. I did, and he pushed it to the left side."
But then sometimes surprise is the ally.
Ryan closed out the fourth no-hitter of his career on June 1, 1975 against Baltimore by throwing Bobby Grich a 3-2 changeup. Grich dropped the bat as the ball crossed the plate, and shook his head.
"I'm sitting on a fastball," Grich said two years later when he and Ryan were teammates with the Angels. "He's got a 1-0 lead, a 3-2 count on me and throws a curveball. I never expected that."
Darvish took care of a lot of the outs on his own. He struck out 14 of the first 23 batters he faced.
There were two plays in the fifth that were a bit out of the ordinary to help Darvish get into the ninth inning with the perfect game. Chris Carter led off by driving a ball to left-center field that left fielder David Murphy caught up against the wall. Next up was Rick Ankiel, who hit a soft liner that first baseman Mitch Moreland made a nice play on.
"When that ball that was hit to left-center got caught, I thought it maybe was going to work out for him," said Ryan. "You usually get a play or two like that, but those last nine outs are tough because everybody has seen you two or three times that night. They know what's going to happen."
But then sometimes those last few outs are easier for the pitcher to get because those hitters have seen the pitcher two or three times, and realizes there is no chance to get a hit.
Norm Cash made the final out in Ryan's second no-hitter at Detroit on July 15, 1973, but not before a moment of humor. Cash walked to the plate carrying a table leg instead of a bat. Home plate umpire Ron Luciano asked Cash what he was doing.
"Can't hit him with a bat," Ryan remembered Cash told Luciano. "What's the difference?"
After trading in the table leg for a bat, Cash popped to shortstop, and the no-hitter was complete.