Justin Verlander: A damn good pitcher

Epic. That’s how I think about Justin Verlander starts. Every time he steps out on the mound, I hear music. You know, from Field of Dreams. Be honest – you hear it, too. Every Verlander start is full of possibility. Hope. Greatness. History.

Yesterday was no different. He upped the ante this year by throwing a no-hitter in May. Now we expect it. Hold our breath until the first hit. But the one thing we don’t do is talk about it. Like Fight Club. Dems da rules. Ixnay on the o-hitternay while it’s being played. At the end of the first, Verlander had allowed a single base runner, but no hits.  Game on.

Top of the second.

Verlander’s no-hitter back in May was the second of his career. Just to add a little perspective, only 30 pitchers in all of baseball have thrown more than one. In Tigers history, there have only been seven. Seven no-hitters. And Verlander has two of them.

He’s going for his third. Which, after three straight hitless innings, looks promising. Not to mention, daunting. A third no-hitter would be huge. Only five guys in the entire history of baseball – since 1875 ­– have thrown more no-hitters than Verlander. Five. Guys with names like Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax. One more and Verlander graduates to the ranks of Cy Young, Bob Feller and Larry Corcoran – we’re going all the way back to the late 1800s here. It’s an elite club.

Top of the fourth.

But Verlander is no stranger to elite clubs. Second pick overall in the 2004 draft. The 2006 American League Rookie of the Year. Three-time All-Star. And the only player in baseball history to start a World Series game, throw a no-hitter and be named both a Rookie of the Year and an All-Star within his first two seasons.

In the middle of the fifth, he cracks a smile.

But Verlander is no elitist, which is what makes it so easy to like the 6’4” powerhouse. Where was he when they revealed his Rookie of the Year honors? Verlander, 23 at the time, said he was washing his car – he’d forgotten it was the day of the announcement. He keeps the ball from his first no-hitter in a box in his closet. And then there was that balk back in April. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google it. Trust me. You just have to see it. Mainly, you have to see his reaction. The ribbing he took had to be intense. But this is a guy who can laugh at himself.

Top of the sixth and the buzz in the ballpark is tangible.

Then there’s the story about the chocolate milk. Sophomore year of high school, Justin wanted a 50-cent carton of chocolate milk, but he didn’t have the money. So he wrote up a contract on a napkin with his best friend, Daniel Hicks – offering him 0.1 percent of his eventual pro signing bonus. Deal. They signed off on it. The cost of that chocolate milk?:$3,000.

After seven, the no-hitter is still in play.

And his number? Caught off-guard as a kid, and told he had to pick a number, he chose the number of one of his favorite players, Frank “The Hurt” Thomas. With a career batting average of .301, five consecutive All-Star Game appearances, 521 home runs and numerous other historic stats, Thomas was also known off the field as an all-around good guy. He could hit and everybody liked him. That’s how Verlander picked his number.

Top of the eighth.

As fate would have it, Verlander got his chance to pitch to Frank Thomas in the majors. Call it nerves. Call it excitement. Call it anything you want, Verlander threw a 103 mph fastball – the fastest he’d ever thrown ­– past one of his heroes. Despite his hard-hitting career, Thomas would go only one-for-seven against Verlander. And in that very first meeting, he would fly out to center.

Unfortunately for Verlander, the second batter of the eighth inning will not.

Just five outs away from making history once again, Verlander watches his dream drop in center field.

Orlando Cabrera nabs a single.

And Justin Verlander gets a standing ovation.

In the ninth, he would allow just one more hit. He still had good stuff. It looked like he could throw forever. Like he was just getting started. At 28, Verlander will have plenty of opportunities to throw another no-hitter. Or two.

And that was that. The no-hitter that wasn’t. Just another game, really. The Tigers shut out the Indians to take sole possession of first place in the American League Central. Just another Verlander game. And there are many more to come. He has a little brother, you know. A little brother the Tigers drafted last year. As a high school senior. For the record, Justin was drafted as a college player. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Epic. That’s how I think about Justin Verlander starts. Every time he steps out on the mound, I hear music. You know, from Field of Dreams. Be honest – you hear it, too. Every Verlander start is full of possibility. Hope. Greatness. History.

You hear it now?


Related Articles

Back to top button