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Counting down Ranger All Star performances -- #4, Nolan Ryan

The 1989 All Star Game was played on July 11, 1989, at Anaheim Stadium.  The Rangers had four participants in that game -- Ruben Sierra, Julio Franco, Jeff Russell, and their big free agent signing from the previous season, Nolan Ryan.

Ryan had signed with the Rangers after a disappointing season with the Houston Astros in 1988.  At the age of 41, he had posted a 3.52 ERA (not bad nowadays, but good for only a 94 ERA+ in the Astrodome in that era), and the Astros felt that he was past his prime and not worth another huge contract.  The Texas Rangers swooped in and grabbed him, and he rewarded Texas with a strong bounce-back season, posting a 3.20 ERA and 124 ERA+, along with a bWAR of 4.6, his second highest bWAR since his epic 1977 season when he posted an 8.3 bWAR.

Oakland A's ace Dave Stewart started the game for the A.L. and had all sorts of problems.  Ozzie Smith led off with a single against Stewart, who caught a break when Smith was caught stealing.  Tony Gwynn then walked, and after Will Clark grounded out for the second out, Stewart gave up singles to Kevin Mitchell and Howard Johnson, with an Eric Davis walk sandwiched in between, followed by a double steal.  By the time Stewart got Pedro Guerrero to fly out to left to end the inning, the A.L. was down 2-0.

The A.L. wasted no time wiping out that lead, however, as leadoff hitter Bo Jackson* and #2 hitter Wade Boggs hit back-to-back homers off of Rick Reuschel** to even the game at 2.  

*  Yes, Bo Jackson, he of the .309 career OBP and .310 OBP in 1989, hit leadoff.

**  Rick Reuschel, believe it or not, as a legitimate Hall of Fame case.  I'm not saying he definitively deserves to be in the Hall...but he's 30th all-time in bWAR for pitchers, and has a 3.37 ERA and 114 ERA+ in 3548.1 career innings.  No pitcher who has been retired for long enough to be Hall eligible has a higher bWAR.  He isn't perceived as a Hall of Famer because he spent his best years with the Cubs when they were really awful, and he missed most of three seasons in his early 30s with injuries.      

Thus, when Nolan Ryan entered the game in the top of the 2nd, it was a tie game that looked like it would be a high-scoring affair.

Ryan, at age 42, pitched two innings, and pitched like Nolan Ryan.  He got Ryne Sandberg on a foul pop out to first baseman Mark McGwire, struck out Benito Santiago, and retired the Wizard of Oz on a popup to Wade Boggs.

Ruben Sierra* singled to lead off the bottom of the second, and ended up coming around to score on a Bo Jackson RBI groundout, which meant that Ryan had a lead to protect when he came out for the third.

*  Ruben was 2 for 3 with a walk, a run scored, and an RBI, while playing the entire game.  This was the last game that I cut from the top performances, and I'm not convinced I didn't make a mistake by not including it in the top 10.

Tony Gwynn led off the inning with an infield single to the pitcher, and then stole second.*  Ryan, unfazed, struck out Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell, then got Eric Davis on a flyout to right field, ending the inning with no damage.  

*  Ryan was a pitcher of extremes, and the Gwynn sequence epitomizes two of his weakest areas:  he was a terrible fielder, and was very easy to steal on.

Ryan ended up logging two innings -- a total matched in this game only by the N.L.'s Tim Burke* -- with 0 runs allowed, 1 hit, 0 walks, and 3 Ks.  And because the A.L. never relinquished the lead they took with Ryan on the mound, Ryan was credited with the win.

*  Yes, Tim Burke was an All Star.  Have you even heard of Tim Burke?  Can you tell me without looking what team he played most of his career for?

It was a memorable moment for Ryan, whose signing helped make the Rangers -- a team on the verge of being moved to Tampa not long before -- more relevant, and whose All Star season at age 42 helped cement his reputation as a physical freak and a pitcher of mythical status.

And this performance in the 1989 All Star Game earns Ryan a spot on our Top 10 All Star Performance list.