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Ryan Shows He's Still a Threat : Baseball: Despite death threat, he goes a strong seven innings in Anaheim Stadium finale. Angels win with a run in eighth, 2-1.

September 18, 1993|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nolan Ryan stood on the mound Friday night, surrounded by a sea of fans at Anaheim Stadium who wished he had never left town 14 years ago, courageously trying to maintain his composure.

This was not merely a baseball game in the middle of a pennant race for the Texas Rangers, and another meaningless September game for the Angels that eventually resulted in a 2-1 Angel victory.

This was not merely about pitching in front of his old fans for the final time of his career, revitalizing those golden memories in front of a sellout crowd of 60,326 at Anaheim Stadium, the 12th-largest regular-season crown in club history.

This was the poise of altogether a different magnitude.

Nolan Ryan was pitching the finest game of his season--yielding four hits and one unearned run in seven innings--knowing that someone had threatened to kill him.

Ryan received a death threat at the stadium Friday afternoon, hours before the game, and Anaheim police took it quite seriously.

Two police officers escorted Ryan to the bullpen before the game and flanked him on his return to the dugout. They stood in front of the Ranger dugout after every completed half-inning, constantly surveying the crowd, communicating on walkie-talkies with police officers located in the stands.

Anyone else, it would seem, might be rattled by the threat. Some might have even postponed their appearance, saying they would pitch another day. But this is Nolan Ryan.

Did he consider not pitching Friday?

"No, all that would do is fuel the fire," Ryan said. "And this wasn't a fire.

"They (police) told me where to stand, and where to sit, but a lot of good that does. Half of the time, they'd know exactly where I'd be. If somebody was intent on something like that, I don't think this would be place they'd do it.

"I didn't think about it once the game started. It's just a shame that these things happen. It's just a measure of the craziness of our society."

Ryan, 46, who was pitching in the major leagues before four Angels in the starting lineup were born, was at his finest. OK, so maybe it wasn't vintage Ryan, striking out only five batters and leaving with a no-decision--but certainly he has never been better this season. And the crowd loved every minute of it.

The crowd stood and cheered wildly the moment Ryan first emerged from the dugout at 7:09, and didn't stop until they insisted on two standing ovations when Ranger Manager Terry Kennedy came to the mound and pulled him from the game before the start of the eighth.

Little did Kennedy realize that Ryan would be the only one to stop the Angels. Pinch-hitter Stan Javier hit a two-out, pinch-hit triple off right fielder Donald Harris' arm in the eighth, providing Chuck Finley (15-12) with the victory.

"It seemed like I've been in this position before," said Ryan, who was used to little support while pitching eight years for the Angels before leaving in 1979. "Under our circumstances, with the team in the race, I tried to stay focused on the job at hand rather than get caught up in the moment."

The defeat left the Rangers 4 1/2 games behind the division-leading Chicago White Sox, while the Angels were officially eliminated from the division race with Chicago's victory.

It didn't matter to the crowd, who cheered Ryan's aspirin commercial that appeared on the scoreboard after the second inning, and booed when Angel third baseman Rene Gonzales singled with two out in the second, ending any illusions of Ryan's eighth career no-hitter.

The Angels, of course, knew this night would be different before they completed batting practice. They watched in awe at the bizarre sight of seeing fans pouring into the upper deck 1 1/2 hours before game time. They stood at the plate, squinting through the constant camera flashes.

"Angel fans have always been special and supportive," Ryan said. "When the fans treat you the way they did tonight, it makes you want to pitch forever. But I haven't allowed myself to get sentimental about this.

"Basically, I hurt all the time. My body is telling me that my career has run its course and it's time to get on to something else."

"This is a living legend," Angel Manager Buck Rodgers said. "He achieved his status at 32, and the the legend has kept growing. There have been three generations of people who remember this guy, and he keeps going."

Said Ranger first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who has played the last five years with Ryan: "I don't think we quite appreciate him as teammates. You take him for granted. Then you come to a place like this, see people going nuts, and you realize what he means to this game.

"Believe me, this game is going to miss him."

The Final Show

Texas pitcher Nolan Ryan appeared unconcerned (right) before his final start at Anaheim Stadium. Once the game began, he was in fine form (above), despite having missed most of the season because of injuries.

NOLAN RYAN'S PITCHING LINE

* Innings 7

* Hits 4

* Runs 1

* Earned Runs 0

* Strikeouts 5

* Walks 0

* Pitches 97

* Strikes 63

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