SF Giants: Will Clark hits home run off Nolan Ryan in MLB debut

Will Clark of the San Francisco Giants circa 1986. (Photo by Owen Shaw/Getty Images)
Will Clark of the San Francisco Giants circa 1986. (Photo by Owen Shaw/Getty Images) /

Will Clark made his memorable MLB debut for the San Francisco Giants on this date in 1986.

Will Clark made one of the more memorable MLB debuts in San Francisco Giants history against the Houston Astros, just 26 days after his 22nd birthday.

When Clark stepped to the plate that day, he had a tall task ahead of him, beyond whatever inevitable nerves must come with that experience. Nolan Ryan, then a 39-year-old veteran entering his 20th season in the big leagues — the Ryan Express himself — stood on the mound staring Clark down.

You already know what happened. Clark took Ryan deep to center field for the round-tripper. Clark was the 53rd player ever, at that time, to hit a home run in his first MLB at-bat.

“I’m walking up to the plate going I’m just going to look for his fastball because I’ve never seen anything that fast before in my life,” Clark said after the home run. “First pitch to me was a curveball and, like, really surprised me. I saw him giggling a little bit and I asked the catcher, ‘Why is he throwing me a curveball?’ ‘Just switching things up.'”

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Clark let the first two pitches go by, making his first major league swing on a 1-1 count when he finally saw Ryan give him a fastball.

The Giants won, 8-3. Clark’s nickname, “The Thrill,” followed not long after.

#FBF to 30 years ago. April 8, 1986.Welcome to the big leagues, Will Clark! #ForeverGiant #SFGiants

Posted by San Francisco Giants on Friday, April 8, 2016

Ryan went on to finish the year a little better than average, led the NL in ERA the following season, and easily went on to a Hall of Fame election as one of the best pitchers in baseball history.

Clark went on to finish it pretty strong himself, finishing fifth in NL Rookie of the Year balloting, with a .287 average, 11 home runs, and a .787 OPS (good for 121 OPS+). The Giants placed third in the NL West with an 83-79 record.

With a year under his belt, Clark finished fifth in MVP voting in 1987, and made the first of his six All-Star appearances in 1988. He earned the NLCS MVP award in 1989 after going 13-for-20 (.650) with two home runs and eight RBI against the Cubs. He went 4-for-16 in a losing effort to the Athletics in the World Series.

Years later, Clark remembered the aftermath of his famous home run.

“I was sitting on the bench after everything subsided, I was sitting next to Chili Davis and I looked at Chili and said he’s going to hit me next at bat,” Clark told KNBR in 2016. “Chili looked at me and said, ‘Oh yes he is!’ Next at-bat he was in his windup and I was already on the way to the ground.”

Ryan didn’t hit him, but he was in Clark’s head. Ryan won the battle with a strikeout.

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