2002-05-04 / Sports

The Curse of Nolan Ryan: Mets Flirt No-No’s

By Bryan Hoch-Baseball Columnist

By Bryan Hoch-Baseball Columnist

Shawn Estes and Pedro Astacio flirted with no-hitters in consecutive games last week at Shea Stadium, only to find that the New York Mets have a three-decade long jinx going in that department. Some might call it the "Curse of Nolan Ryan".

In December 1971, the Mets dealt Ryan – a promising but erratic righthander to the California Angels as part of a four-player package for veteran infielder Jim Fregosi. Although he possessed a crackling fastball, Ryan could never display enough control to succeed in the National League with the Mets, where the low strike is king.

Over a 27-year-career with the Mets, Angels, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, Ryan wrote his own ticket to Cooperstown, gaining induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 after setting the all-time career mark for strikeouts with 5,714 and firing a record seven no-hitters.

Fregosi was a bust for the Mets, hitting just .232 with five home runs and 32 RBI for New York in 1972. General manager M. Donald Grant pulled the plug on Fregosi in July 1973, selling the infielder to the Texas Rangers, and the Mets have been feeling the hit ever since.

In 41 seasons of baseball since joining the National League in 1962, the Mets are still without a no-hitter to their credit. That makes them the oldest team to have never experienced a perfect afternoon, surpassing the San Diego Padres (1969), Colorado Rockies (1993), Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (both 1998).

There have been close calls – Tom Seaver took two no-hitters into the ninth inning with New York, David Cone made a pair of bids six days apart in 1991 and Dwight Gooden lost one thanks to a poor official scoring decision in 1984 at Wrigley Field. All three pitchers would go on to complete the deal with other clubs – Seaver with the Cincinnati Reds, Cone and Gooden with the Yankees.

So it was little surprise to many on Friday night in the seventh inning when Milwaukee’s Eric Young broke up Estes’ no-hit bid, slapping a changeup to left for a single. Young was thrown out stealing by Vance Wilson for the second out of the inning, and Estes cruised through the final two innings unscathed for his first career one-hitter.

"Some guys say they don't think about it," Estes said. "Honestly, I was. I just got [the pitch] up a little bit and he hit it well. I can't say I'm not disappointed, but winning was the most important thing on this night."

The next afternoon, Astacio one-upped his teammate, taking a no-hitter through 6 1/3 innings. Geoff Jenkins dunked a 2-2 curveball into left field for the Brewers’ first hit of the afternoon, and Astacio settled for picking up his fourth win of the season.

But as the buzz around Shea Stadium went, once again, the Curse of Nolan Ryan had denied the Mets.

"It could happen," Astacio said. "We just have to keep pitching well. I don't think anybody is worried about

a no-hitter."

*****

So much for job security. When the Kansas City Royals handed manager Tony Muser a pink slip on Tuesday morning, Muser became the fourth manager fired this month.

Muser’s dismissal adds to a major league record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, whose research indicates there have never been more than two managers fired in a month since such records became available in 1900.

Already this month, Phil Garner, Davey Lopes and Buddy Bell have been canned by the Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies, respectively. The Boston Red Sox also said farewell to Joe Kerrigan in spring training.

*****

Taking a look at the National League standings each morning must be a chore for commissioner Bud Selig, who lobbied hard this offseason for the contraction of the Montreal Expos.

Headed by field manager Frank Robinson and general manager Omar Minaya, the Expos proved to be one of baseball’s biggest surprises in April, relying on fearless execution of "small ball" and a talented young starting staff to propel them to the cream of the crop in the National League East.

An interesting battle is also shaping up in the National League Central, with the small-market Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates battling for position atop the division.

When the Pirates lost on Opening Day at Shea Stadium, some cracked that the Pirates wouldn’t see the .500

marker for the rest of the season, but that hasn’t been the case at all. Mike Williams has been outright dominating in the closer role, while Josh Fogg and Kip Wells have provided the Pirates with a pair of standout arms in the rotation.

The Reds have been able to overcome mediocre starting pitching with the success of Scott Sullivan and Danny Graves in the bullpen, who have been lights out in their appearances. Sean Casey, Adam Dunn and Juan Encarnacion have keyed the offense for Cincinnati, a team that strangely seems to play better when Ken Griffey, Jr. isn’t in the lineup.

Now that all three clubs have the cylinders firing in unison, isn’t it time fans came out to see them?


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