Manning leads the way as Tigers combine to no-hit Blue Jays

July 9th, 2023

DETROIT -- When heard the boos from the Comerica Park crowd as Tigers manager A.J. Hinch marched to the dugout to take the ball from him in the seventh inning on Saturday, he thought it was Blue Jays fans who traveled from Toronto giving him a hard time. He heard the ovation on his way back to the dugout and thought it was a standard reaction from the home fans.

Not until Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter walked up to congratulate him in the dugout did he realize he had a no-hitter going.

“Honestly, I swear I had no idea,” Manning said after teaming up with relievers and for the ninth no-hitter in franchise history -- and its first combined no-no -- in a 2-0 win over the Blue Jays.

And when he realized what was happening?

“Oh, dang,” Manning said.

A dozen years after Justin Verlander no-hit the Blue Jays in Toronto, Manning led the trio that repeated the feat in Detroit, combining to hold the mighty Blue Jays lineup to three walks and a hit batter. It marked the second no-hitter in three years for the Tigers, who watched Spencer Turnbull blank the Mariners in Seattle on May 18, 2021. It was also the first no-hitter at Comerica Park since Verlander shut down the Brewers on June 12, 2007.

And it was a grind for Manning most of the way. 

For 6 2/3 innings, the right-hander said he was focused on working deep into the game and resting a taxed bullpen. He labored through a first-inning summer shower that had delayed the start time, then intensified to cause Manning to struggle gripping the ball. So much so that he needed a time out to get a towel from the dugout and dry his hands and arms.

Manning hit his first batter and walked the second before retiring the middle of the Blue Jays’ lineup in order, capped by a called third strike on Cavan Biggio.

“You see him changing balls out every other pitch, and even the umpire ran out and handed him one to avoid throwing it in the rain,” Hinch said.

Pitching with a two-run lead in the second inning after the Tigers got to Kevin Gausman in the bottom of the first, Manning tweaked his side. He stood and stretched in the dugout between innings for most of his outing.

“I was just frustrated with the way the rain started in the first,” said Manning. “I guess that’s the reason my mind was focused on eating up outs and getting through innings.”

What the 2016 first-round Draft pick didn’t realize, through, was that he was on. As the rain let up and the sun came out, his command settled in and he dominated.

Though Manning recorded just five swinging strikes -- four on his slider -- he made up for it with 23 called strikes, including three of his five strikeouts. His curveball, the third pitch in his repertoire, drew eight called strikes.

“He had a better feel for his breaking ball right away,” said catcher , who has caught the Tigers’ past two no-hitters. “And then once he started landing them, it was just really in his hands. He did a really good job of throwing breaking balls behind in the count and then going [with] sliders to finish guys and freezing guys with the heater. When you’re doing that to good hitters, that’s a great sign.”

The combination kept Blue Jays hitters from squaring him up often, and Detroit’s defense stepped up when they did.

made a running catch in left field in the second inning. made a sliding grab in foul territory in right field to begin the fourth, followed by a diving stop and throw at third from .  raced 120 feet from shortstop into deep left field to chase down Bo Bichette’s fly ball in the sixth.

Manning retired 15 consecutive batters in between Whit Merrifield’s leadoff walk in the second until Biggio’s two-out walk in the seventh, the latter of which brought Hinch out with the hook, after having nearly pulled him following the fifth and the sixth. It was a tough decision with the potential tying run at the plate.

“This was kind of hard,” said Hinch, who has managed individual and combined no-hitters in his career. “Matty was grinding the whole day. He didn’t feel great the whole day. He was getting looked at by the trainer every inning. He’s had a long run of injuries. But when you’re the manager, [those are] just excuses when something big is going on.

“My first responsibility is to him, and sometimes that doesn’t line up with what everybody wants to see.”

Manning left to a standing ovation from both fan bases with 91 pitches, 57 of them strikes, on his line. It was his third start back after missing two months with a fractured foot suffered on a hard-hit comebacker against -- fittingly -- the Blue Jays in Toronto on April 11.

Foley, who hadn’t pitched in a week, entered to face Merrifield, whose line drive sent center fielder Jake Marisnick into the gap in left-center for a catch. Foley retired the bottom of the order in the eighth.

“I was a little surprised when the phone rang [in the bullpen],” Foley admitted. “I think we all were. But you’ve got to do your job.”

The final challenge, the formidable top third of Toronto’s lineup in the ninth, fell to Lange, who used his buckling curveball to strike out Bo Bichette on three pitches, then retire Brandon Belt and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to finish the job.

“I think we were all aware of it,” Lange said. “Just make the moment as small as possible.”

Well, everyone was eventually aware of it.

“It’s pretty sick any time you achieve something like this,” Foley said. “I’m happy to do it with these guys.”