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#TBT: Verlander recalls no-hit past

Friday marks eighth anniversary of no-hitter vs. Brewers at Comerica

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander can't look back at this point. He spent enough time the last couple of years chasing the past that he's better off looking forward. Verlander's season debut on Saturday night will be a good chance at a fresh start in that regard.

And yet, as Verlander readies for his return, he'll be coming up on a memory. Eight years ago Friday, at Comerica Park, he no-hit the Brewers. It was on Verlander's mind as he learned of Chris Heston's no-hitter against the Mets on Tuesday night.

Unlike Heston, Verlander had a full season of experience when he took the mound that night. Like Heston, he never had the experience of flirting with a no-hitter and losing it.

"I had never thrown a no-hitter at any point in my career, amateur baseball or otherwise," Verlander recalled. "So it was kind of like, 'What just happened?'"

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What happened is something Verlander will never forget. Even with all the feats that have followed, from his second no-hitter to his American League MVP Award-winning season in 2011 to the October gems in Oakland, he considers that to be the best stuff he has ever had in a game.

That was really the point when Verlander became known as an all-around-stuff guy. Back then, he was a power pitcher who could throw 100 mph at any point in a game, whether it was his first pitch or his 101st. The secondary pitches helped set up the heater.

Verlander took a step forward in 2007, but particularly the start before his no-no, when he threw seven shutout innings against the Rangers.

"Probably the start before in Texas was probably the best stuff I ever had, just pure stuff," Verlander said. "Once I got into the groove of the game in '07, the no-hitter game, the stuff was just there."

That included a breaking ball that could buckle even good hitters when it was on. Hitters were so conscious of Verlander's fastball, they were frozen on the curveball. If he could spot it, they were often helpless.

As then-Brewers slugger Prince Fielder dug in against Verlander in the fourth inning with a 2-2 count, having taken a 1-2 pitch for a ball, Verlander went to the curve. Fielder flinched and took it. Verlander spotted an 83-mph bender at his knees on the inside corner, drawing a call from home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa. All Fielder could do was smile on his way to the dugout.

Verlander threw even better ones before he was done.

"Curveball, I was throwing 86, 87 [mph] for two games," Verlander said. "I don't know where that came from. I was always an 80-82 guy. For whatever reason, those two games, it was just unreal."

The Fielder strikeout was the sign in the press box that Verlander might be unhittable that night, although he admits he was thinking no-hitter before that.

"No matter what people say, I think they start thinking about it after three or four [innings] if they haven't given up one," Verlander said. "A lot of guys say they don't think about it. I don't believe that. I knew."

Verlander had help, from Magglio Ordonez denying Corey Hart with a sliding catch in the seventh inning to Neifi Perez sliding to his knees on a ground ball up the middle to start an eighth-inning double play. But Verlander also had 12 strikeouts and just three balls in play out of the infield.

Once Perez's play got the game to the ninth, Verlander took over. He struck out Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino on offspeed pitches, then threw a first-pitch 101-mph fastball to J.J. Hardy.

That was Verlander's 109th pitch of the night. His 110th came in at 99 mph.

"With one strike left and two outs, I stepped off the back of the mound and really just took a breather," Verlander said at the time. "I kind of looked around for a second. I wasn't soaking it up or anything, I was just trying to calm myself down."

Hardy got the next pitch but popped it up to right. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez was hugging Verlander by the time Ordonez caught the ball.

That pause, and the accompanying peace, was a lesson Verlander took with him into future years. But nothing compared with that night against Milwaukee.

"That was probably the best stuff I ever had," Verlander said.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.
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