Verlander nearly throws 3rd no-hitter for Tigers
As no-hit bids go, this one was proceeding almost predictably.
Justin Verlander was commanding his pitches brilliantly on the mound. An overmatched Pittsburgh lineup looked powerless against him.
Then, with only two outs separating the Detroit ace from yet another rare achievement, Verlander threw a breaking ball just off the outside corner, and Josh Harrison hit a soft line drive to center field for a single.
''Would I rather it be hard-hit? Of course,'' Verlander said. ''But a hit's a hit's a hit.''
Harrison's ninth-inning single broke up Verlander's latest no-hit bid, but the powerful right-hander was brilliant again for the Tigers, striking out 12 in a 6-0 victory over the Pirates on Friday night. Verlander allowed two walks and settled for his first career one-hitter. He nearly became the sixth major leaguer to throw at least three no-hitters.
The Pirates haven't been no-hit since 1971, when Bob Gibson did it against them for St. Louis. In fact, Pittsburgh has been no-hit only four times in franchise history.
Verlander fell just short of the third no-hitter in the majors already this season. Philip Humber pitched a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox at Seattle on April 21, and Jered Weaver tossed a no-hitter for the Los Angeles Angels against Minnesota on May 2.
Verlander no-hit Toronto on May 7, 2011. His other no-hitter came June 12, 2007, against Milwaukee.
''I felt pretty good. I don't know if it was the best. It's hard to compare some of the others to this one just because they're different,'' Verlander said. ''I'm a different pitcher now than I was last year even, or especially four or five years ago with the first one I had. But I felt like I pitched really well.''
Four of the five pitchers with at least three no-hitters are in the Hall of Fame: Nolan Ryan (seven), Sandy Koufax (four), Bob Feller (three) and Cy Young (three). Larry Corcoran, an ambidextrous pitcher who won 177 games from 1880-85, is the other one.
The 29-year-old Verlander, last year's AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, really brought the crowd to life in the eighth with three straight strikeouts. Casey McGehee went down looking at a 98 mph fastball, then Nate McLouth struck out swinging on a pitch that hit 99.
Verlander reached 100 mph with his first pitch to Clint Barmes, and after getting him to chase an outside pitch for strike three, he walked slowly to the Detroit dugout and down the steps closest to home plate on the third-base side - while teammates used another entrance at the opposite end.
In the ninth, Michael McKenry grounded to shortstop Jhonny Peralta on a 3-2 offering, and Verlander got ahead of Harrison before he reached for a 1-2 slider and sent a clean single up the middle that Peralta couldn't get to.
''I was so amped to hit his 100 mph fastball that I didn't even know where the ball was going,'' Harrison said. ''He never threw me a fastball in that at-bat, but I finally got a pitch I could put my bat on.''
Verlander (5-1) saw the ball drop in shallow center and bent backward on the mound, knowing how close he came. He settled for his sixth career shutout and 16th complete game. He threw 109 pitches.
The sellout crowd at Comerica Park gave Verlander a big ovation and he quickly finished off the Pirates with a pair of groundouts. After the Tigers lined up for high-fives, Verlander saluted fans with a wave.
This was his first one-hitter, although he allowed one hit in eight innings against the Los Angeles Angels last season, one of several close calls to go with the no-hitter against the Blue Jays.
After rolling to the AL Central title in 2011 and adding Prince Fielder in the offseason, Detroit was just 18-20 entering Friday night's game. Against the Pirates, the Tigers provided a glimpse of what Motown was hoping to see this season.
Miguel Cabrera and Fielder hit back-to-back RBI doubles in the first off Charlie Morton (2-4). Delmon Young added a solo homer in the fourth, and Don Kelly's run-scoring single later that inning made it 4-0.
Then there was Verlander.
''With him, anytime like the fifth, sixth inning, with his stuff, you think it could happen,'' Detroit catcher Alex Avila said. ''His stuff was better today than it was last year during his no-hitter.''
NOTES: Plate umpire CB Bucknor was shaken up in the first when he was hit around the collarbone by a wild pitch. ... Detroit's Brennan Boesch extended his hitting streak to 11 games. ... Detroit's Drew Smyly (1-0) takes the mound against Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett (1-2) on Saturday.