Here are the 5 best games by Tigers pitchers

January 18th, 2021

The rich history of the Tigers includes several Hall of Fame careers and countless legendary seasons. But what about great individual pitching games? The list includes several no-hitters and one would-be perfect game, but also some great outings in the clutch.

Here’s one writer’s ranking of the top five single-game pitching performances in franchise history.

1) no-hitter -- July 20, 1958, at Red Sox

Of all the no-hitters in Tigers history, Bunning’s masterpiece has the highest game score (97). He took a Red Sox lineup that included three .300 hitters at the time, including a 39-year-old Ted Williams and eventual American League MVP Award winner Jackie Jensen and shut it down, striking out 12. All Boston managed off Bunning in a Sunday afternoon doubleheader opener was a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch to Jensen. The Red Sox hit the ball out of the infield just seven times, three of them from Williams. The hardest-hit ball, according to the Detroit Free Press game story by Hal Middlesworth, was a Gene Stephens fly ball that took right fielder Al Kaline to within a few steps of Fenway Park’s right-field wall. Bunning also out-hit the Red Sox, 1-0.

2) no-hitter -- June 12, 2007, vs. Brewers

Verlander’s first career no-hitter remains one of the most memorable nights in Comerica Park’s 20-year history. On a warm early summer evening in downtown Detroit, the second-year right-hander put forth his signature performance with a 112-pitch, 12-strikeout gem against a Brewers lineup that had no shortage of sluggers, including future teammate Prince Fielder. When people talk about “Vintage Verlander,” this game is what they’re referring to. His fastball hovered around 100 mph and stayed there, all the way up to 101 mph on his 109th and 110th pitches. His changeup was precise and deceptive. What separated Verlander in this game, though, was his curveball. On most days, it was an 80-mph bender. It had the same break that night, but he was throwing it all the way into the mid-80s, giving hitters no split-second to react. And he was spotting it.

3) *perfect game -- June 2, 2010, vs. Cleveland**

This should be the only perfect game in franchise history, but a missed call at first base on a Jason Donald grounder with two outs in the ninth denied Galarraga his place in history with one of the least likely perfect games in baseball. Before that play, Galarraga retired Cleveland’s first 26 batters with relative ease despite just three strikeouts, with a ninth-inning running catch by Austin Jackson in deep left-center field as the only challenge. Galarraga still finished with an 88-pitch one-hitter, and his class in the aftermath remains an example in sportsmanship.


4) Justin Verlander no-hitter -- May 7, 2011, at Toronto

Like Galarraga, Verlander nearly had a perfect game. In his case, a 12-pitch walk to J.P. Arencibia denied it with one out in the eighth inning. But like Galarraga’s gem, the Blue Jays barely had any hard contact off Verlander, who didn’t have his best fastball command but baffled hitters with his slider, normally his third-best pitch back then. Verlander struck out just four, but the outing set in motion a dominant season for him that culminated with the pitching Triple Crown, the AL Cy Young Award and AL MVP Award honors.

5) Virgil Trucks no-hitter -- Aug. 25, 1952, at Yankees

This was the second of two no-hitters from Trucks that year, which is incredible during what ended up being a 5-19 season for him. In both, he allowed only one walk and pitched around errors -- three in one game, two in the other -- for 1-0 victories. But in this game, Trucks shut down a Yankees lineup that included Mickey Mantle batting leadoff and reigning AL MVP Award winner Yogi Berra batting cleanup. A third-inning grounder from Phil Rizzuto was initially ruled a Johnny Pesky error at short, changed to a hit, then changed back to an error later. Thus, Trucks didn’t realize he was pitching a no-hitter until suddenly, in the seventh inning.

Honorable mention
Justin Verlander ALDS Game 5 -- Oct. 11, 2012, at Oakland
Mickey Lolich World Series Game 7 -- Oct. 10, 1968, at St. Louis

Both gems deserve recognition because they happened in winner-take-all playoff games on the road. Verlander silenced a raucous crowd in Oakland with a four-hit shutout, walking one, striking out 11 and giving the A’s no hope on their home field during a 6-0 Tigers victory.

Lolich, working on two days’ rest, outpitched Bob Gibson at Busch Stadium to complete Detroit’s comeback from a 3-games-to-1 deficit. The lefty came within an out of the shutout before Mike Shannon homered with two outs in the ninth during a 4-1 Tigers victory.