TORONTO -- Justin Verlander further cemented his place among the Tigers' all-time greats by throwing the second no-hitter of his career and seventh in Detroit history on Saturday afternoon.
The right-hander came within inches of perfection but instead settled for a rather satisfying consolation prize, using a dominant arsenal of pitches against an overmatched Blue Jays lineup en route to a 9-0 Detroit victory at Rogers Centre.
The seven-year veteran's lone blemish came on a 12-pitch walk to rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia.
"I felt fantastic -- obviously, I was extremely excited," said Verlander, who threw his first no-hitter on June 12, 2007, during Interleague Play against the Milwaukee Brewers. "Being able to recall the last one and go through it, it was really able to calm me down."
Verlander's celebration with his teammates began immediately after he struck out right fielder Rajai Davis in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Tigers' dugout emptied, as players swarmed the field to congratulate their No. 1 starter. Verlander was hugged by catcher Alex Avila and shortly after received the traditional on-field Gatorade shower.
It was a much more subdued celebration, though, than the one that followed Verlander's 2007 claim to fame. There wasn't the same type of picturesque moment that occurred during that outing, when then-Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez jumped into Verlander's arms.
|05/07/11||Justin Verlander||at TOR||9-0|
|06/12/07||Justin Verlander||vs. MIL||4-0|
|04/07/84||Jack Morris||at CWS||4-0|
|07/20/58||Jim Bunning||at BOS||3-0|
|08/25/52||Virgil Trucks||at NYY||1-0|
|05/15/52||Virgil Trucks||at WAS||1-0|
|07/04/12||George Mullin||vs. STL||7-0|
This festivity was more calm. It had a been-there, done-that type of feel for the Detroit right-hander, but that doesn't mean it was any less special.
"Obviously, the adrenalin wasn't quite as high," said Verlander, who became just the 28th player in modern Major League history to record multiple no-hitters, including postseason play.
"I wasn't jumping around and stuff, and a lot of that had to do with it was a strikeout and not a fly ball to the outfield, so I didn't have as much time to react. But I'm still just as excited -- it was fantastic."
Verlander's second no-hitter unfolded in a much different fashion than his 2007 gem, in which he recorded 12 strikeouts.
The 28-year-old struck out just four Blue Jays hitters on Saturday afternoon, which tied a season low. It was an unexpected departure for a pitcher who entered the game ranked second in the American League with 9.56 strikeouts per nine innings.
Verlander recorded 13 of his outs on the ground while adding another 10 through the air. The reason behind the different approach was the right-hander's inability to establish an effective curveball early in the game.
The native of Virginia normally relies on his curveball after getting hitters into two-strike counts. Against the Blue Jays, though, he realized the pitch was coming out of his hand flat, without its normal break, while also having trouble locating it down in the zone.
That caused an adjustment on the mound and led Verlander to rely almost exclusively on his overpowering fastball, changeup and slider.
Verlander's 2011 game log
"I think it just shows how he really located and changed speeds early on," Avila said. "He didn't have his curveball -- maybe only a couple of times he threw some good ones.
"But his slider was probably as good as it has ever been. We were able to go to that besides his 101-mph fastball -- that was his best pitch today."
The main benefit of Verlander's low strikeout total was his ability to get through the first six innings on a relatively low pitch count. That left him with plenty of stamina to close out the game.
After spending most of the start throwing fastballs in the mid-90s, Verlander took it to another level when faced with late-inning situations. He reached back and added velocity to his pitches -- topping out at 101 mph, according to the radar gun at Rogers Centre.
"I was still trying to make my pitches, but I really went into another gear in the seventh," Verlander said. "Thankfully, I had established a pretty good rhythm early in the game with slowing myself down that I was able to continue to throw strikes that way."
Verlander appeared well on his way to perfection through the first seven innings of the game. He retired the first 22 batters he faced before Arencibia stepped to the plate.
Arencibia nearly recorded Toronto's first hit by ripping a fastball down the third-base line that just missed landing in fair territory. The battle continued for 12 pitches before Arencibia watched an outside fastball go by.
Home-plate umpire Jerry Meals called it a ball, and the bid for a perfect game came to an end. The pitch missed by only a couple of inches, but Verlander wasn't about to complain about the call.
"It was a ball, and that was my thought," said Verlander, who called his girlfriend, Emily, immediately after the game. "I sometimes get pretty emotional out there on the mound, especially if I think a ball is close or whatnot. I can't help it; It's just my nature.
"But that one, right out of my fingertips, I knew it was just a hair outside, and it was. It was a ball, and you've got to give [credit] -- he called it a ball, and it was."
Verlander quickly refocused and got Edwin Encarnacion to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Verlander went on to post a perfect ninth inning to become just the seventh pitcher since 1954 to record a no-hitter while facing the minimum. The last pitcher to accomplish the feat was Tampa Bay's Matt Garza last season.
"The story of the day was Justin Verlander," said Blue Jays manager John Farrell, whose team was no-hit for the fourth time in club history. "Three offspeed pitches for strikes, with a fastball up to 100 mph. Just a dominating performance against us.
"The number of quick outs early in the game allowed him to keep the pitch count well in check, and he seemed to only gain strength as the game went on."
Detroit's offense provided Verlander with a lot of breathing room early in the game. The Tigers scored three runs in the third inning in an unconventional fashion off left-hander Ricky Romero.
Toronto's No. 1 starter allowed two walks, two hits, a hit batsman, a balk and a wild pitch en route to a three-run inning for the Tigers.
Detroit added three more insurance runs the following frame on home runs by Jhonny Peralta and Avila. That chased Romero from the game after surrendering all six runs on five hits and two walks.
That was more than enough offense for Verlander, who was untouchable the entire afternoon.
"That's as good as it gets," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He just missed by inches of being perfect, and it was a ball, obviously.
"It really doesn't get any better than that. That's just great stuff. ... He was totally in control from the start. Like I said, almost perfect."