Justin Verlander has, in the parlance of the game, no-hit stuff.
What happened on Tuesday night was the work of absolute pitching brilliance, and it created a piece of baseball history. But with Verlander's ability, it seemed more like the next logical step than a completely unusual occurrence.
But it is something historic. The rarity of the feat is underscored by the fact that this was the first no-hitter at home for a Tigers pitcher since Virgil Trucks in 1952.
This was a supreme effort by Verlander, made all the better in that it appeared effortless. There was only one Detroit defensive play with a high degree of difficulty attached to it. Magglio Ordonez in right field had to make a sliding catch on Corey Hart's sinking liner for the second out in the seventh inning.
Apart from that, the Detroit outfielders barely had need of gloves for this contest. The only other outfield outs came when J.J. Hardy lined out to center to end the first inning and when Hardy flew out to right to end the game. The last out came on a relatively deep but routine fly ball, and by the time it was in the glove of Ordonez, catcher Ivan Rodriguez was already applying a congratulatory hug to Verlander.
The Tigers mobbed their no-hit pitcher, and the Comerica Park crowd of 33,555, which had already given Verlander a standing ovation at the beginning of the ninth, gave him a thunderous and long-lasting tribute.
Throwing his fastball in the mid- to high-90s to exact spots, mixing in a baffling breaking ball and change of speeds, Verlander struck out a career-high 12 batters. He made some veteran hitters basically evaporate, striking out Tony Graffanino four times and Geoff Jenkins three times.
Verlander walked four. Bill Hall walked in each of his three plate appearances. But it was not as though there were control issues at work here. Hall put up the evening's best at-bats for Milwaukee, spoiling good pitches, exhibiting a degree of patience. But elsewhere in the lineup, the word overmatched would suffice for what happened with Verlander and the Milwaukee hitters. Even the 12 strikeouts couldn't drive up his pitch count, which ended up at a comfortable 112, 73 for strikes.
In the Tigers clubhouse, Verlander gave repeated credit -- "all the props in the world" -- to his teammates for their defensive work behind him. This was modest of him, but it was typical of him, which is why he is both respected and liked by his teammates.
"I'm so proud of him," first baseman Sean Casey said. "He has electric stuff, but it's the way he handles himself."
What worked for Verlander? What didn't?
"I had a pretty good breaking ball tonight," he said.
This is like saying some automobiles are made in Michigan, but again, let us be refreshed by the modesty emanating from a pitcher who has just achieved greatness.
"I was able to go out and control the zone with my fastball and throw my breaking ball and changeup for strikes," Verlander said.
It sounds so simple that way, and yet on this night, when put into practice, it was simply great, simply unhittable.
Verlander said that he knew after the first two innings that he had particularly good stuff, but he did not contemplate the no-hit possibility until the fifth or sixth.
"You can't help but think about it a little bit; it's in the back of your mind," he said. "You've really got to focus on the batters and not worry about the no-hitter, just go out and pitch."
If there were nervous moments here, they weren't visible to the naked eye. OK, maybe just before the end, when Verlander, who had been steamrolling the Milwaukee lineup, starting the ninth with two more strikeouts, took a brief moment to compose himself.
"With one strike left with two outs, I stepped off the back of the mound and really just took a breather," he said. "I kind of looked around for a second. I wasn't soaking it up, I was just trying to calm myself down. I had too much adrenaline, and the breaking ball I threw before that was up in the zone and pretty hittable. I had to make an adjustment and make sure I kept my pitch down."
The rest of the Tigers were suitably happy for Verlander and proud to be part of his history-making performance. Third baseman Brandon Inge hit a solo homer in the third, which turned out to be the only run
Verlander would need.
"I've been through the World Series last year, but that ninth inning was the most nervous I've ever been on the field, ever," Inge said with a smile. "And that's the first time in my life I was thinking, 'I hope it's an error and not a hit. If I can get to it, give me an error.'
"I wanted everything hit my way, because I was geared up. Fifth inning, I looked up and I thought, 'This guy's pitching great. I haven't seen a pitch in the middle part of the plate all day.' So I thought it was possible.
"This is about as proud as I've ever been for a teammate. He deserves it. He won Rookie of the Year last year. He's very successful, but beyond that, I know that when he is out there on the mound, he's trying his [best] to get us a win, not just for personal stats. That means more to us than anything."
Justin Verlander popped the celebratory champagne cork in public view in the clubhouse, but he did not drink the champagne until after answering the questions of the media. It was another display of maturity, or at least semi-temperance.
This no-hitter, he said, would probably not settle in for him until later. But for the moment: "It was one of the most special moments of my life, the most special moment of my life, to this point."
Justin Verlander deserved this no-hitter, on talent, on effort, on performance. He was so good in this game that the rare beauty of a no-hitter was realized and the way he worked on this June evening, it was not in the least surprising.