What we learned watching Ryan's 7th no-no

With the start of the MLB season delayed, baseball fans can pass the time by watching tons of classic games for free on the MLB Vault on YouTube.

Here’s a look back at one of those games: Nolan Ryan’s record seventh no-hitter, on May 1, 1991, at age 44. The Rangers veteran struck out 16 Blue Jays at Arlington Stadium. The game is on YouTube here.

MLB.com reporter and researcher David Adler watched the game for the first time. Here’s what he learned:

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Nolan Ryan threw his last no-hitter four months before I was born. All I’d ever seen of him were scattered highlights and the section of the 1986 Mets’ “A Year to Remember” videotape where he faces New York in the National League Championship Series.

But I never saw Ryan pitch a full game. Until now. This is the all-time strikeout leader we’re talking about. It was about time.

Here are seven things I learned from watching Ryan’s seventh — and last — no-no:

1) Nolan Ryan was a freak
If this is Ryan at 44, what the heck did he look like in 1973, when he was 26 and striking out 383 and throwing no-hitters left and right?

The Blue Jays couldn’t touch him. I can’t remember the last time I saw a baseball player look like such a giant among his peers. Toronto was only a year away from winning back-to-back World Series, too. The heart of their lineup had Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter and John Olerud.

Ryan sends Alomar flailing to his knees multiple times — including when he strikes out to end the game. Carter is lucky to draw a walk. Glenallen Hill, the DH, looks like he’s hitting blindfolded.

Oh, by the way, the announcers inform us early on about Ryan that this 44-year-old ballplayer threw 131 pitches in his last start and the Rangers weren’t sure he was even going to take his turn. No wonder they call Ryan “the ageless wonder.”

2) Forget the Ryan Express … How about the Ryan Hammer?
I assume when most people think of Ryan they think of the “Ryan Express” and overpowering velocity. So that’s what I was imagining when I started watching.

And then he starts throwing curveballs. Wipeout curveballs.

Ryan’s curve is his nastiest pitch for a lot of this no-hitter, including a beauty to freeze Olerud in the second inning. The announcers comment: “People forget — they think of Nolan Ryan and the Express and the 90-mph fastball, but he gets a lot of strikeouts with that curveball.”

In the late innings, Ryan does finally dial up his rising fastball to satisfy those craving the Express. But the hammer curveball is so much better than I was expecting.

Ryan also mixes in a fall-off-the-table changeup out of sheer spite. As if the Blue Jays had a chance.

3) Julio Franco was the coolest in any decade
The iconic batting stance is on full display. Julio Franco was the Rangers’ second baseman, and every time he steps to the plate, that bat is pointed straight at Toronto left-hander Jimmy Key on the mound.

I remember watching Franco on the 2006 Mets, when he was 47 years old and still a solid pinch-hitter. Luckily, some things don’t change. Franco’s stance looked the same in 2006 as it did a decade and a half earlier.

It’s pretty crazy to think that Franco was already in his 10th Major League season when he took the field for Ryan’s no-no … and still had 16 years to go before he retired.

4) The suicide squeeze needs to make a comeback
One of the most entertaining moments of Ryan’s no-hitter by far was when Rangers manager Bobby Valentine tried to push across an insurance run in the eighth with a suicide squeeze.

Steve Buechele’s flailing bunt attempt on Willie Fraser’s pitch in the dirt is beautiful comedy. Catcher Greg Myers lumbering up the third-base line to lay an easy tag on a surrendering Juan Gonzalez puts the bow on the scene.

And the play would have been just as cool if it had worked! Baseball needs more crazy squeeze plays. Managers, take note.

5) Ruben Sierra was dangerous
Rafael Palmeiro was the best hitter on the field, but Ruben Sierra did the big damage with a two-run homer off Key.

Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to throw Sierra a pitch in the wrong spot. Key dropped in a pretty-good-looking curveball down and in, but the big cleanup man stepped right in the bucket and dropped the barrel.

Good fundamentals? Maybe not. An impressive show of raw power? Definitely.

6) Gary Pettis was a defensive whiz
Gary Pettis, the Rangers’ center fielder and leadoff man (and now the Astros’ third-base coach), was a five-time Gold Glove winner in center. I had no idea until the broadcasters said so.

It turned out to be prescient — Pettis made the defensive play of the game to preserve the no-hitter, a running catch in short center to take a hit away from Manuel Lee. Pettis’ hat flew off and everything.

Funny side note … Pettis drew criticism from the announcers (after a hard lineout to third, of all things) for a swing unbefitting of a speedster: “The problem with Pettis — see that uppercut swing? When you have the speed of a Gary Pettis, you should swing down on the ball and utilize the speed.”

The fly-ball revolution was a long way away.

7) Didn’t anyone care about Olerud’s OBP?
John Olerud was only 22 and in his second full season, but he was already becoming an on-base machine. The lefty entered this game with a .375 on-base percentage (or “OBA,” as the 1991 TV graphics displayed) and had a .364 mark as a rookie the year before.

That got no mention when he came up against Ryan. As far as I can tell, the only three hitting stats discussed at length for anybody were batting average, home runs and RBIs. Baseball’s changed a little.

What did get attention was Olerud’s defense at first … for the wrong reasons. Olerud missed a scoop in the second inning, prompting the announcers to mention, “It’s been a struggle for John Olerud working on his footwork, working on getting to the bag.”

Who knew … Olerud had a great defensive reputation by the time I was watching him and won three Gold Glove Awards at first base with the Mariners in the early 2000s.

Either way, it was nice to watch a game featuring the unique “batting helmet in the field” look.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.