DETROIT -- The long path back to pitching dominance for Justin Verlander ended Wednesday night with a familiar sight. The Tigers' ace came within three outs of his third career no-hitter, settling for a one-hit shutout in a 5-0 win over the Angels on Wednesday night at Comerica Park.
"Over the last seven or eight starts, he's kind of shown that he's still got Justin Verlander inside of him," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, "and I think tonight was a little bit of an exclamation point."
Verlander came within a Chris Iannetta ninth-inning double of joining Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Cy Young and Larry Corcoran with at least three no-hitters. Instead, after enduring a brief delay prior to the start of the ninth as Ausmus considered reviewing the final out of the eighth, Verlander settled for the Tigers' second one-hitter in a week, and his deepest no-hit bid since Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison broke up his attempt with one out in the ninth on May 18, 2012.
Verlander still owns the Tigers' last no-hitter on May 7, 2011, in Toronto, part of an MVP season in which he built the suspense of a no-hitter every start for much of the summer. He nearly no-hit the Angels that July 31, only to have it end in the eighth.
"I think if you make it to the ninth, I think you got the stuff," Verlander said. "Obviously, luck always has to be a little on your side. I remember in Toronto, I think [J.P. Arencibia] hit one right down the line that was just foul late in the eighth. Iannetta's [double] hit the line. So if that goes foul, it would have been different. You have to tip your cap; he put a good swing on it."
For eight innings, there was nothing particularly close this time, nor was there anything hit all that hard. The deeper Verlander pitched, the tougher he became, up to 97 mph in the seventh and eighth innings. He mowed through the toughest part of the Angels' order in the seventh, fanning Kole Calhoun, dropping a full-count curveball on the outside corner to Mike Trout, then powering fastballs past Albert Pujols.
Verlander struck out five in a row in that stretch, and he had plenty left for the final couple innings, fed by a standing ovation at inning's end from the sixth on. Once he threw a rare changeup to get a double-play grounder from Erick Aybar, Verlander was cruising.
Verlander fell behind on a 2-0 count to Iannetta, but evened the count before the Angels' catcher pulled a line drive down the left-field line. The ball hit the chalk to a collective groan from the home crowd.
"I threw what I wanted. I just didn't locate it," Verlander said. "It was the only ball all night that I threw over the heart of the plate. Everything that had been on the plate was up, and that one just kind of ran back on me and ran middle, and he hit it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Navigating rough waters: Two of Verlander's most impressive pitches came against the Angels' two best hitters in the seventh inning, while striking out Trout and Pujols. Verlander started out ahead in the count, 0-2, to Trout, then threw three straight balls and came back with a loopy, 83-mph curveball for his first caught-looking punchout. Against Pujols, he got ahead with a breaking ball, then attacked the Angels' first baseman with four straight fastballs, the last of which ran low and inside, at 95 mph and right through Pujols' bat.
"First couple innings, he's sitting 93-94. Late in that game, he was pumping that heater up and throwing all of his pitches for strikes," Trout said.
"Now he's throwing a little cutter, which he didn't have in the past," Pujols added, "and after he was smelling a no-hitter in the fifth or sixth inning, he started throwing 97, 98, so he had a lot in his tank." More >
Of all people …: Iannetta entered the game with a .186 batting average and had recorded just five hits in 37 at-bats in August, a brutal slump that got him benched as the everyday catcher. But after striking out swinging in his first at-bat and popping out weakly in his second, Iannetta lined a 2-2 fastball down the left-field line and drew chalk to lead off the ninth.
"It's good to get a hit," Iannetta said. "The last couple weeks have been a struggle offensively, especially personally. I'm just glad to find the barrel." More >
Homer happy: The Tigers ended Santiago's night early and provided Verlander all the cushion he needed with a pair of two-run homers in the fifth inning. Cabrera connected first, sending an 89-mph sinker over the fence in left field, and Martinez added one of his own moments later on the first pitch he saw from the lefty. It was Martinez's 34th home run of the year, 11 more than his previous high of 23 last season.
"[Verlander] has pitched really well lately, and we haven't been able to put up runs for him," Martinez said. "Today, we had a guy that's been having a really good year [Santiago], and we were able to put up some runs against him."
Second-half descent: Santiago ran his pitch count to triple digits in the fifth inning, right before giving up the two two-run homers that ended his start early. Since earning a trip to the All-Star Game with a breakout first half, Santiago has given up 27 runs (24 earned) in 41 1/3 innings, raising his ERA from 2.30 to 3.13. He lasted only 3 2/3 innings his last time out and has pitched into the seventh inning just once since the All-Star break.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Verlander became just the second active pitcher with two no-hit bids lost in the ninth inning, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The other is his teammate, Anibal Sanchez.
"We've seen Justin for a long time. It seems like as the game goes on historically, you see him start to smell the end of it and his stuff picks up. That's what we saw tonight. The only difference is we saw him when he might have gotten up to 100 mph when he smelled it. He wasn't quite there, but there is no doubt as that game went on his stuff picked up." -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia on Verlander's near no-hitter
"I was feeling it for different reasons. In the past, obviously -- not that it was ever easy -- I hadn't been through a tough time in my career yet. This has a special meaning because of the way the fans were treating me and reacting. I know they've wanted to see me back as bad as I have, and from the sixth inning on, they were unbelievable. They gave me goosebumps coming off the mound in the seventh because of the way they were reacting. It was nice to hear." -- Verlander on his emotions in the late innings.
NOT THIS TIME
Aybar infamously bunted with a Verlander no-hit bid in progress in the eighth inning on July 31, 2011, an act Verlander later called "bush league," even though the Angels were only down three runs. When Aybar came up with a man on first and none out in the eighth, Ausmus had third baseman Nick Castellanos play in, just in case. Aybar didn't attempt the bunt. Instead, he rolled into a 4-6-3 double play.
"It popped in my mind, but I didn't think he was going to bunt there," Verlander said. "The score's different. We still had Nick in a little bit, but not as drastic as he was earlier in the game."
WHAT'S NEXT Angels: Matt Shoemaker (5-9, 4.76 ERA) will be called up from Triple-A Salt Lake to start the series finale. The 28-year-old right-hander posted a 1.69 ERA from June 29 to Aug. 4, then gave up 13 runs over his next two starts and was sent down to Triple-A.
Tigers:Randy Wolf (0-1, 3.86 ERA) will make his second start of the season in Thursday's game, which is scheduled for a 1:08 p.m. ET first pitch. The lefty allowed four runs over seven innings last Saturday against Texas.