Verlander not a fluke
Forget the 'Year of the Pitcher,' and talk the 'Era of the Pitcher'
How many pitchers do you know who can do this: With two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth at Rogers Centre on Saturday, Justin Verlander's 106th pitch to Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis came in at 100 mph, according to PITCH f/x.
Verlander, the Tigers ace who has been one of the more underrated players since he emerged as a rookie, is one of very few starting pitchers in history with the ability to throw that fast that late in a game.
Now, he's in an even rarer class.
That Davis at-bat resulted in a strikeout, which led to the second no-hitter of Verlander's six-year career during a 9-0 win by his Tigers. With his no-hit, one-walk performance against Toronto, the 28-year-old right-hander -- who also no-hit the Brewers during Interleague Play in 2007 -- became just the 28th pitcher in baseball history to throw at least two no-hitters in his career.
That list includes Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson, Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Cy Young, former Tiger Virgil Trucks -- and now Verlander.
It's always different when you can do something twice. The idea of a fluke is suddenly out of the picture, and validation sets in. You have to have really good stuff to throw even one no-hitter, sure; but history will say that, for the most part, you have to be great to do it a second time.
With two no-hitters, Verlander has joined a list almost as prestigious as the 24-member 300-win club.
And, as manager Jim Leyland said: "It wouldn't surprise me if he gets another one in his career. That's how good his stuff can be."
Making the leap
Aside from Saturday's historic feat, Verlander has been one of the best, most-consistent pitchers in baseball since his first full season in 2006. From that point up until Saturday, he ranked third in wins (85), fourth in strikeouts (1,009) and sixth in innings (1,101).
His name isn't thrown around among some of baseball's greats, though. Maybe it's because he's never won a Cy Young Award, or because he's never really had postseason success, or because his career ERA is a good-but-not-great 3.80.
But that mark just went down a few notches.
"He was unbelievable today," Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia said. "Anytime on your 106th pitch when you're hitting 100, I'd say it's pretty ridiculous stuff."
The only thing that kept Verlander from perfection was a walk to Arencibia, which came on a 3-2 fastball that just missed the outside corner -- and reached 100 mph.
After the free pass, Verlander got Edwin Encarnacion to bounce into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play and continue facing the minimum the number of batters. In the ninth -- after having to cool down while the Tigers notched a two-run top half of the inning -- he induced a first-pitch David Cooper infield pop-up and got John McDonald to ground out to second base for out No. 2.
Then, finally, on his 108th pitch, Verlander got Davis to strikeout swinging on a tailing slider.
A new approach?
That strikeout was just the fourth of the game by Verlander, compared to the 12 he needed to complete his June 12, 2007, no-no.
On this afternoon, he pitched to contact, conserved his pitch count, mixed speeds effectively, and only tried to rear back and overpower when he felt he had to.
Verlander has always had great stuff. But it's his continued development as a pitcher that can put him in a whole separate category, and apparently that's taking place right before our eyes.
During the series finale between the Yankees and Tigers at Comerica Park on Thursday -- just two days before he would make history yet again -- I spoke with Verlander about not only having great stuff, but being able to hone it into successful pitching.
Here's what he said ...
"Would I rather be able to throw hard? Yes. ... But I would much rather throw slower and be successful. It's just nice to have been able to throw hard throughout my career. But a lot of guys who throw hard are very inconsistent; don't pound the strike zone. I want to be able to do that more effectively."
A new era
So, when can we go from "Year of the Pitcher" to "Era of the Pitcher"?
Verlander's no-hitter came just four days after the Twins' Francisco Liriano did the trick against the White Sox on Tuesday, and it marked the shortest amount of time between no-hitters since Al Leiter (May 11; Marlins) and Dwight Gooden (May 14; Yankees) were three days apart in 1996, according to STATS LLC.
Had a feisty Arencibia not worked a 12-pitch walk with five outs remaining, it would've been the third perfect game over the last two seasons. And had Daniel Descalso's hard grounder not found its way up the middle against the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo to lead off the eighth in St. Louis, we would've had two no-hitters thrown within minutes.
As it stands, Verlander's no-hitter was the second of the season. It was the 10th time a pitcher had held a team hitless through six in 2011, and it was the eighth no-hitter since the start of the 2010 season, which, before 2009, is the most in a two-year span since a gaudy 14 from 1990-91.
And it's only early May.
The long ball dominated baseball for a little over a decade recently. Now, suddenly -- be it from mere happenstance, philosophy, drug testing or a combination -- it's the guys who are on the mound who are having the most fun.
They say hitting is contagious?
So is pitching.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.