The Ultimate Guide to Power, Precision and Long-term Performance
by Nolan Ryan
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Going after my 300th win was a real mental ordeal -- an exercise in staying calm and controlled under unusual and difficult circumstances. I was hoping to get it done at home, what with all my friends and family in Arlington for the occasion. But, unfortunately, my first shot at win number 300 came against the Yankees, a team with a bunch of guys I'd never seen before. That made it tough. And the fact that I didn't have a good command of my fastball that night made it even tougher.
Before the game, I went over the Yankee lineup -- really not knowing how to approach most of the hitters -- and decided to prepare myself mentally for the few guys I'd pitched against in the past. Steve Sax was about the only one I had a good fix on: He's a fastball hitter who likes the ball up. My strategy was to keep him off-balance by throwing breaking stuff and fastballs down and away.
Again, a good pitcher has to adjust his strategy to suit the unique situations that present themselves during each game, each at bat. Here's how I dealt with Sax in pursuit of my 300th win:
In the first inning, with Deion Sanders at third base, I threw Sax three consecutive breaking balls. Falling behind 2-1, I came back with a low change-up for a strike to even the count. At 2-2, then, it was time for the low-and-away fastball. The problem was that my location was off -- the pitch was out over the plate -- and I ended up giving him a pretty good pitch to hit. With Deion at third, Sax was just trying to make contact to drive in the run, and his groundball out did just that.
In the third inning, while Deion was stealing second, I gave Sax a fastball up in the strike zone -- definitely not where I wanted it. Fortunately, though, Sax took a big swing, missed, and fell behind in the count. I followed with a low breaking ball for a strike. And at 0-2, I went to the change-up -- he blooped it to Steve Buechele at deep third for an infield hit.
In retrospect, the 0-2 change-up was a bad pitch. Sax was in a hole, just trying to put the ball in play and protect the plate. I gave him a pitch -- a change on the fists -- that he could fight off for a hit. A good breaking ball would have struck him out or forced him to hit a weak groundball instead of a bloop single.
Next time up -- in the fifth inning -- I decided to open with a fastball. I'd been struggling with my location on this pitch, but it's still my bread and butter. Sax took the fastball for a strike, 0-1. I threw him an inside curve, one that missed by a mile, and then retired him on a low curve that he grounded to Jeff Huson at shortstop. I stuck with the curve instead of going to the change because it was getting the job done.
In Steve's final at bat against me in the seventh inning, I threw him two low-and-away fastballs and he was retired (on the second pitch) on a liner to Pete Incaviglia in left. The original strategy of low and outside fastballs worked the fourth time around; my problem on this night was that my location wasn't up to par, forcing me to counter with a diet of low breaking balls and one change-up I lived to regret.
I think the ability to respond in a positive way to failure is what sets winners apart from losers. I made a few bad pitches to Sax, but next time I'll know better and make the necessary adjustments for success.
Copyright © 1991 by Nolan Ryan and Tom House. Excerpted with permission.