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MIKE PENNER

History Repeats for Ryan

September 18, 1993

They had come to say farewell, 60,000 strong, and it was almost as if no one had ever left.

Nolan Ryan gave up only four hits.

He held the opposition to one run. It was unearned.

He received one run's worth of offensive support. It was not enough.

He left to a standing ovation . . . and a no-decision.

His team lost, 2-1.

And earlier in the day, the Angels announced they were firing their general manager.

It was 1977, all over again.

This was to be Ryan's last appearance inside the house he built, filled and thrilled until Buzzie Bavasi booted him out in late 1979--and who knows, maybe Buck Rodgers is right when he says Ryan might not have lasted 27 years in the major leagues if he had stayed in Anaheim.

Games such as Friday's would have driven him out of the sport a good decade ago.

To the end, Ryan and Anaheim maintained their love-hate relationship. You always loved the idea of Ryan pitching here, but always hated to see what eventually happened to him.

This time a throwing error got him. By his catcher, Ivan Rodriguez, who merely won the American League Gold Glove last season.

As soon as the ball sailed over second base, you knew. Angel base-stealer Luis Polonia was headed for third and he certainly wasn't destined to stay there for long.

Like clockwork, the next batter, Chad Curtis, drives a fly ball to mid-depth in center field. Polonia tags, Polonia scores, Ryan's 1-0 lead is gone in the bottom of the sixth inning and gone for good.

An inning later, Ryan would be gone, too, his 1-1 tie left to be protected by mere mortals. And get this: The bullpen blew it.

Perhaps sensing what was in store, the Anaheim Stadium crowd called out Ryan for a double encore as soon as he hit the Texas dugout. One shake of the cap. And another. And then he ducked back down, never to be seen in these parts again, leaving the fans only with their memories and their Saturday morning trips to Fotomat.

It really wasn't Flashbulb Night at the Big A, although Polonia, the Angels' leadoff batter, had to wonder as he took his first swings of the game. Ryan kicks and deals . . . and dozens of camera lights pop in the outfield bleachers. It looked like a Springsteen concert. Poor Luis, what could he do? He swung at the closest white flash to him and was a quick strikeout victim.

Ryan teased the crowd, first when he hopped out of the visiting dugout to begin his pregame warmup and mistakenly headed straight for the Angel bullpen--the torture, the torture--and then when he retired the first four batters he faced, three via strikeout.

But Rene Gonzales ended the no-no suspense early with a bouncing single between third and shortstop with two outs in the second inning.

All that remained was to see how the Rangers would screw this one up for Ryan.

"It seems like I've been in this position before," Ryan drawled in his postgame press conference. He must have stopped counting when it reached triple figures. But, looking on the bright side, he'll never have to wince at this place again.

"We'll never see another one like him," said Rodgers, the Angel manager, before the game. "Not a power pitcher. You may see a knuckleballer, like a Charlie Hough or a Hoyt Wilhelm, last into his 40s, but you're not going to see another 46-year-old who throws 95.

"I know I've never seen one before. I don't know anybody who even knows anybody who's seen another 46-year-old throw 95 miles per hour."

Jim Edmonds, the 23-year-old rookie who started in right field for the Angels, has a father who is younger than Ryan. "It amazes me what he can do at that age," Edmonds said of Ryan. "My dad is 42, 43, and he can barely play catch with me."

Edmonds grew up in Diamond Bar, just up the freeway from Anaheim Stadium, but doesn't remember seeing Ryan pitch as an Angel. "I was 8 during his last season," Edmonds said. "But I watched him all the time on TV when he was with the Astros. I was a pitcher when I was younger and he was my idol.

"Later, I dreamed of getting to hit against him, but two years ago, he announced that he might not be around too much longer. I remember hearing that and thinking, 'That's too bad, that would have been a real highlight.'

"Luckily, I was called up just in time. The timing's perfect."

Rodgers looked at the kids in his lineup--Edmonds, J.T. Snow--and imagined what was going through their heads as they prepared for Ryan. "This is something they're going to tell their grandchildren," Rodgers mused. "Nolan has thrilled three generations already, maybe four."

Rodgers also knew that his team was relinquishing the home-field advantage for one night.

"I'm sure everybody wants to see him do well," Rodgers said, "but how about us winning in the late innings? That would be the perfect script."

Ryan would differ with the adjective, but the script was delivered, just as Rodgers had specified.

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