TORONTO -- Justin Verlander had felt this feeling before -- in the very same building, in fact. When the final out was made, capping his third-career no-hitter in Houston's 2-0 win over the Blue Jays on Sunday, he raised his arms skyward, let a smile spread across his face and
TORONTO -- Justin Verlander had felt this feeling before -- in the very same building, in fact. When the final out was made, capping his third-career no-hitter in Houston's 2-0 win over the Blue Jays on Sunday, he raised his arms skyward, let a smile spread across his face and awaited a mob scene with his teammates.
In 2011, Verlander stood on the same Rogers Centre turf celebrating the same thing. With Sunday’s no-no, he became the third pitcher to throw multiple no-hitters against the same team -- and the first to throw two in the same ballpark as a visitor. As a Tiger, Verlander’s first no-hitter came in 2007 at Comerica Park against the Brewers.
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With his third no-hitter, Verlander joined Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Larry Corcoran and Cy Young as the sixth pitcher ever to throw three or more in their careers. It’s a feat that was not lost on the 36-year-old ace.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know that,” said Verlander, who has twice lost a no-hitter in the ninth inning. “Definitely a big hurdle to get over, and a special moment for me.”
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This special moment is one of many threads woven into the tapestry of Verlander’s illustrious career, in which he has evolved and adapted to remain one of the game’s best. When he thinks about what has happened since the 2011 season -- an MVP, injury woes, a World Series ring -- Verlander realizes how much has changed.
“The last one, 2011, was kind of the height of my pitching as a young man,” he said. “You know, ’11 and ’12 went well, then ’13 and ’14 I had some injuries plague me a bit. The process of coming back is not easy. … [My family] knows how hard I work behind the scenes, and I think that’s one of the things that they’re most proud of.”
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Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos gets an up-close look at Verlander’s work ethic, and he noted after the game that Verlander is still “getting better and better.”
Chirinos knew Sunday could be special for Verlander in the pregame bullpen, when Verlander’s fastball had extra life on it.
“I remember walking back to the dugout to tell JV, ‘Man, your fastball is unbelievable today,’” said Chirinos, who caught his first no-hitter since the Venezuelan Winter League in 2011.
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Sure enough, the fastball zipped by Blue Jays hitters all day. Verlander collected a whopping 15 swinging strikes on his four-seamer (among 23 total), which ranged from 93 to 97 mph. His 14 K's gave him a Majors-high 257 this season and made him the fifth pitcher to top 250 five times in his career.
But the lively heaters got him in a bit of trouble in the first inning, resulting in a five-pitch walk to Cavan Biggio, the second batter of the game. That was the only blemish in Verlander’s line, which included only one batted ball exceeding 100 mph in exit velocity.
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As the game wore on, one problem persisted: The Astros weren’t providing any run support for Verlander. Through eight innings, Houston had managed just five baserunners, and the game remained in a scoreless tie.
Verlander polished off the eighth at 106 pitches. At that point, he talked to manager AJ Hinch -- the first and only time they spoke during the game -- about pitch count and strategy. Verlander knew the ninth was almost certainly his last inning, which meant the Astros needed to score in the top half to give him a chance at history.
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So that’s what they did.
With two outs, Abraham Toro hammered a 1-1 fastball over the left-field wall. It was all the offense Verlander needed, and the timing couldn’t have been better.
All that remained was a clean ninth for Verlander. He started by coaxing Brandon Drury into a groundout. Up next was Reese McGuire, who swung through a slider for a strikeout. Finally, Toronto’s hot-hitting Bo Bichette stepped in.
Bichette, who was 7 when Verlander debuted in 2005, was one of six Blue Jays hitters who’d never faced Verlander. He’d struck out twice and grounded out once, but he saved his best at-bat for last.
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He worked the count full, fouling off two pitches and leaving a slider well out of the zone that Verlander hoped he might chase.
“I wanted to get him,” Bichette said. “I thought I was seeing the ball really, really well in the last at-bat. I made some good adjustments. I honestly thought I was going to get him.”
Instead, Bichette grounded a ball hard to Toro at third, who flipped it over to first in time for the final out. Then the celebration began.
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“It’s elation,” Verlander said. “It’s so cool to be able to have everybody jumping up and down and have everybody else that excited.”
Houston has two of the four no-hitters thrown this season. On Aug. 3, Aaron Sanchez (six innings), Will Harris (one), Joe Biagini (one) and Chris Devenski (one) capped off the second combined no-no in franchise history.