- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
Justin Verlander's favorite player was Nolan Ryan growing up, and he can recall with precision the circumstances of how he first met the Ryan Express. Verlander respected the fact that, somehow, Ryan never really deviated from being a power pitcher; right to the end, throwing his last pitch at age 46 years and 234 days, Ryan worked off a fastball that overwhelmed hitters.
But that does not necessarily mean Ryan didn't have his share of struggles along the way. In 1971, he had 116 walks and 137 strikeouts in 152 innings for the Mets, who decided to trade him after that season rather than wait to see if Ryan would maintain his command.
Ryan led his league in walks eight different times over the next 12 seasons, and in 1985, when he was 38, Ryan's ERA rose to 3.80, raising questions about whether he had begun an irreversible decline. Instead, Ryan would lead his league in strikeouts in four consecutive seasons from 1987 to 1990 and continue throwing no-hitters, finishing with seven in all.
Verlander has two no-hitters, and there probably have been moments when he thought about matching or even surpassing Ryan's total, given his level of dominance.
But Verlander is 32 years old now, and like Ryan, he has had to make his own series of adjustments.
3dJeff Banister, Special to ESPN.com
4dBrayan Pena, Special to ESPN.com
7dMatt Buschmann, Special to ESPN.com
8dA.J. Ellis, Special for ESPN.com
9dRob Manfred, Special to ESPN.com
9dSean Doolittle, Special to ESPN.com