Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers throws a first inning pitch while playing the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park on June 14, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 4-0. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Justin Verlander has thrown two no-hitters in his career.
And there is no doubt in my mind that he'll throw a third, and maybe a fourth and fifth or even more. He's that good. Tuesday night in Detroit, Verlander came close to becoming only the fourth pitcher to throw two no-hitters in the same season (five, if you count Roy Halladay, who threw a perfect game during the regular season in 2010 and no-hit the Reds in the postseason). Orlando Cabrera of the Indians broke up Verlander's no-hitter with one out in the eighth inning and the righthander gave up just one other hit. There were just two other baserunners, via a walk and a hit-by-pitch; Verlander struck out 12 and throwing a complete-game shutout. More importantly for his team, the Tigers' 4-0 victory over Cleveland gave them sole possession of first place in the tight AL Central.
Verlander allowed two hits or fewer for the third time this season and the 11th time in his career. In fact, he was probably more dominant Tuesday night than on May 7, when he no-hit the Blue Jays in Toronto. On that day, he threw 108 pitches, 74 for strikes and posted a Game Score of 90. Tuesday night, he threw 82 strikes in his 119 pitches and posted a Game Score of 94. His season WHIP is now 0.887, having allowed just 26 walks and 73 hits in 111.2 innings pitched. Only 15 other pitchers in MLB history have had a full season with a lower WHIP; the list is dotted with Hall of Famers (Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal) and future HoF members (Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez).
So what Verlander is approaching is special. Only five pitchers in MLB history have thrown three or more no-hitters in a career (Larry Corcoran, a 19th Century hurler, Young and Bob Feller, three each; Koufax had four, and Nolan Ryan, seven). Given the fact that he just turned 28, Verlander should have many more years in which to join this exclusive club.
More important, from the Detroit team perspective, is the move into first place for the first time this season. The Tigers got off to a rough start, losing seven of their first ten games and by May 2, having lost seven in a row (including being swept by the Tribe in Cleveland), trailed the first-place Indians by eight games. A three-game winning streak followed by a loss had them treading water; they inched up by one game.
That loss, to the Blue Jays on a Friday night, was followed up by Verlander's no-hitter on May 9. That seemed to energize the entire team; that was the first of a seven-game winning streak. But then the energy left as suddenly as it came; the streaky Tigers then lost eight of eleven, including losing the first three of a four-game set at home at the hands of the Red Sox.
Have they put it together now? Including the last game of that four-game series, a win over Boston -- which, of course, was pitched by Verlander, who gave up just four hits in 7.2 solid innings -- Detroit is 12-4 and has turned a six-game divisional deficit into a one-game lead in the AL Central.
Streaky teams tend to continue to streak, and it's just as possible as not that the Tigers will go on another losing streak after their current run. They are outplaying their Pythagorean projection by two games, after all. But as long as Justin Verlander goes out there every fifth day and throws as he did last night, those losing streaks shouldn't last very long.