Verlander loses shot at third no-no in ninth

Verlander loses shot at third no-no in ninth

Verlander loses shot at third no-no in ninth
DETROIT -- Sure, the Perfect Game club is probably nice. But the three no-hitter club is more exclusive. Justin Verlander was knocking on the door Friday night.

With one flailing two-strike swing and one shattered bat, Pirates leadoff hitter Josh Harrison slammed the door shut and chained the lock.

"That's why throwing no-hitters is so difficult," Verlander said. "It doesn't take a hard one, it just takes the right placement."

And with that, Friday's 6-0 Tigers win joined the many near no-hitters Verlander has thrown over the last two years, ending with his first one-hitter. It's the first no-hit bid he has lost in the ninth inning.

It was close enough that just about everybody in the sellout crowd of 41,661 not wearing a Pittsburgh uniform at Comerica Park thought he was going to get it.

"I think it's a little bit more surprising to me that I didn't than [if] I did," Verlander did.

It was also an example why many expect Verlander to eventually join Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Cy Young and Larry Corcoran with his third.

Many in the crowd might have had a feeling early. While Verlander was entering the time of the year when he always seems to be at his toughest, the Pirates came to town with the lowest offensive numbers in baseball.

The way Verlander dropped curveballs on the plate, sent changeups at Pittsburgh's aggressive young hitters and spotted fastballs on the corner, few hitters around the league would've stood a chance. At the end, he had Harrison swinging badly at what might be his fourth-best pitch.

"I've wanted to be a part of Tigers history since I was a little kid, and I almost was," said Pirates manager and Michigan native Clint Hurdle. "For my money, it was a thing of beauty to watch. That's a master craftsman with a power tool. He can take you places you don't want to go."

He always has that potential. This always seems to be the time of year he puts it together, almost as regular as the seagulls that flock to the ballpark every year around this time to feast on bugs.

Verlander's second no-hitter came last May, holding the Blue Jays to an eighth-inning walk in Toronto. His first no-hitter, in 2007, came during Interleague Play against a Brewers team that featured a young slugging first baseman named Prince Fielder.

"They've always happened to me," Fielder joked later. "I've never been a part of it."

His catcher had a pretty strong feeling around the fourth inning. Alex Avila caught that no-hitter in Toronto last May, when Verlander used sliders and changeups to baffle a formidable Jays lineup. Friday's pitching, Avila said, was better.

Most teams start leaving pitchers with a no-hit going alone around the middle innings. Avila said he didn't talk to Verlander after the third. They simply had nothing to discuss.

"His stuff today, everything was nasty," Avila said after Verlander's 12-strikeout, two-walk performance. "Everything was working great. Changeup, curveball, slider, fastball, we were getting outs with every single one. He felt comfortable throwing every single one of them."

In what has become classic Verlander form, he mixed those pitches early while saving his upper-90s fastball for the seventh inning, when the lineup came back around to the more seasoned Pirate batters.

Rarer than the baserunners -- Neil Walker drew a walk as the second batter of the game, as did Andrew McCutchen in the seventh inning -- were the times the Pirates came close to a hit. They hit just three balls out of the infield through the first eight innings, two of them from Harrison.

The second of those nearly spared the drama and broke up the no-hitter in the sixth with a drive to deep left-center field that sent Don Kelly sprinting toward one of the deepest parts of the ballpark. Kelly was filling in for center fielder Austin Jackson, who missed the game with an abdominal strain.

"We were playing him the other way," Kelly said. "When he hit it, I didn't know at first how long it was going to hang up. Once saw it kind of go up more than a line drive, I knew I had a chance."

Had Verlander gotten the no-hitter, Kelly's running catch would've been the defensive gem that became the highlight. Nothing else was close to requiring extraordinary effort.

Once Verlander got through the middle of the order in the seventh, walking McCutchen after a full count but spotting a curveball for a called third strike on Garrett Jones, the watch was on. He geared up his fastball and struck out the Pirates in order in the eighth -- Casey McGehee watching a 98-mph fastball, Nate McLouth missing a 99-mph heater and Clint Barmes swinging at a slider in the dirt.

"Once the seventh comes, I'm not going to let them get a hit on something that's not my best stuff," Verlander said. "So I gave it all I've got the last three innings."

Once Mike McKenry grounded out to short leading off the ninth, that slider made Harrison look silly with two ugly swings for an 0-2 count. Harrison fouled off another, then took a curveball off the plate for ball one.

"I was too amped up. I was ready for the fastball, and I swung at the first two without really seeing them," Harrison said. "So I tried to slow everything down."

Harrison's deciding swing wasn't much prettier than his first two, and it shattered his bat. Still, he got enough to line it over Verlander's head and past shortstop Jhonny Peralta for a single.

"The first two he swung at were down in the dirt," Verlander said, "and this one was off the plate where he was able to just kind of stick his bat out there and hit it up the middle."

Said Avila: "His bat died a winner."

The Tigers were still winners. But they came close to so much more.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.