Sixteen Ks send Ryan to the record books

Written by: Aaron McCoy

As one of the most dominant pitchers the game has seen, Nolan Ryan led Major League Baseball in strikeouts 11 times while recording more than 300 Ks in six of his 27 seasons. In his seventh year in the bigs (and second year with the California Angels), Ryan made history during the 1973 season as he broke the record for most strikeouts in a single season, surpassing legendary Dodger Sandy Koufax.

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On Sept. 27, 1973, Ryan entered the day needing 16 strikeouts to break Koufax’s record of 382 set in 1965. Scheduled to start the Thursday afternoon game against the Minnesota Twins, as well as the series finale on Sunday, Ryan broke down his game plan for setting the new benchmark.

“I feel I’ll have to strike out 10 in the next game to really have a good shot at it,” Ryan told the Associated Press going into the first of two starts against Minnesota. “Coming back so early may hurt me and pitching against the same club so close together could work against me. The Twins run a pretty tough lineup at you and they should be getting used to me.”

Facing a Twins lineup peppered with future Hall of Famers like Rod Carew, Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew, Ryan had his work cut out after facing them earlier in the week.

“I gave up 13 hits Sunday but only one through the first five innings,” Ryan told the AP, referring to his previous start against the team from the Twin Cities. “That’s a sign right there that I’m getting tired. I’ve never pitched this many innings before.”

Ryan would add 11 more innings to his total with his start on Thursday, but a quality outing did not look promising early on. After surrendering three runs to Minnesota in the first inning – giving up an RBI single to Oliva and a two-run double to Killebrew – the California offense responded with three runs of its own, and Ryan settled in and struck out 15 batters through eight innings, tying Koufax’s record.

Knotted at 4-4 after a full nine innings, the game moved into extras and Ryan remained on the hill through the 11th, when he hurled three straight fastballs by pinch-hitter Rich Reese to collect his 383rd strikeout and the record for most Ks in a single season. Thanks to a pinch-hit, walk-off double from Richie Scheinblum in the bottom half of the inning, a victory for the Angels was secured and so was Ryan’s 21st win of the season.

“I’m glad it’s over with,” Ryan said after his taxing performance, per United Press International. “Now I can sit back and spectate.”

Earning the much needed rest, this record-breaking start would be Ryan’s last appearance of 1973 – a season in which he finished second in the Cy Young Award race and in the Top 20 in American League Most Valuable Player Award voting. A season later, Ryan would keep his top spot as the league leader in strikeouts with 329 while once again placing in the Top Five for a Cy Young Award.

An eight-time All-Star, Ryan would finish his career with 5,714 strikeouts, 324 wins and an ERA of 3.19. He also threw a record seven no-hitters and became the oldest player to register a no-hitter at the age of 44.

Ryan was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Aaron McCoy was the 2023 public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Leadership Development

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