Verlander reacts to final out
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2011 AL MVP Justin Verlander, also an AL Cy Young Award winner while with Detroit that year, burnished his credentials for a second Cy Young Award when he no-hit the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre in Toronto on September 1st, 2019. Verlander needed 120 pitches and struck out 14 Blue Jays, three of whom were sons of former big league stars just getting their feet wet at the major league level.
In the Jays lineup were shortstop Bo Bichette, son of slugger Dante Bichette, Cavan Biggio, son of Astros Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., the son of Hall-of-Fame outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.
None of that mattered to Verlander as he settled in before 24,104 fans on a Sunday afternoon. The righthander was after his 17th win of the season in pursuit of the league lead.
Unlike many pitchers during a no-hitter, Justin had no lead to work with until the very last inning. Wilmer Font, Sam Gaviglio and Zack Godley had blanked the Astros on three hits and a walk over the first eight innings. Into the ninth inning stepped former Houston closer Ken Giles.
Giles allowed a bloop double behind first base to Alex Bregman to lead off the ninth. After Yordan Alvarez and Aledmys Diaz failed to advance the runner, third baseman Abraham Toro was Houston's last chance. A native of Canada, Toro had flied out in a similar situation against Godley in the seventh.
This time, Toro jumped on a 1-1 fastball and drove it into the left field seats for a two-run homer. The Astros were finally on the scoreboard with a 2-0 lead.
That just left three outs for Verlander to notch his third career no-hitter. After retiring the first two batters with little trouble, Verlander worked the count full against Bichette who then tapped a dribbler down the third base line. The rookie Toro backed up and played the hop then threw to Diaz at first for the final out as Houston players stormed the mound to congratulate their ace. Verlander allowed just one baserunner the entire day, a walk to Biggio back in the first inning. After that, he retired 26 straight batters.
Verlander completed his season with the league lead in wins (21) and second in ERA (2.58) to his teammate Gerrit Cole. He also finished second in strikeouts (300) behind Cole and was awarded his second AL Cy Young Award in a close vote.
Verlander in rare form
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Toro watches it fly
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Toro acknowledges feat
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Mobbed on the mound
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In step the entire day
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TORONTO - Justin Verlander is an ace fit for another era but dominating this one nonetheless. Defying the passage of time, he is as good now at 36 as he was at 26.
On Sunday, he started a masterpiece against the Blue Jays and required one out to finish it. Bo Bichette bounced a fastball toward Abraham Toro at third base. Back turned to the batter's box beneath a Canadian crowd he again captivated, Verlander watched the baseball strike the dirt and land inside Toro's glove.
The milliseconds between pitch and poke produced a flood of paranoia for the Astros' awe-inspiring ace. Toro, a rookie starting his eighth major league game, took the baseball off the dirt. Bichette booked it down the first-base line. "Please be an out," Verlander thought. "Please be an out."
On his throw across the diamond, Toro's fingers caught a seam of the baseball. It started to soar. Aledmys Diaz raised his mitt.
"It was kind of like a frisbee going to first base," Verlander said. "I was just like, 'Please don't go over his head.' When he caught it, it's just elation."
Verlander raised both arms. A throng of teammates flew in from the first-base dugout. The third no-hitter of his career completed a 2-0 series-clinching win over the Blue Jays.
Unsure where to go or whom to hug first, Verlander saw Robinson Chirinos. He bent down, balled both fists and braced for a bearhug from his personal catcher. Chirinos has caught every pitch of Verlander's staggering season, a campaign strengthening an already lofty legacy for one of the modern game's best righthanders.
"It seems like JV is getting better and better," Chirinos said. "They don't come easy. He really works hard. He spends a lot of time in the video room to get to hitters' weaknesses. He's unbelievable. He's just getting better."
Verlander's 17 victories and 257 strikeouts are major league highs, and he leads the American League with a 2.56 ERA. He averages a combined 0.77 walks and hits per innings pitched. Pedro Martinez' 2003 season ended with a 0.73 mark - a major league record Verlander seems capable of breaking.
"He's had an unbelievable career," Alex Bregman said. "Hopefully when he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, it's with an Astros hat."
A trip to Cooperstown has been a foregone conclusion for Verlander, regardless if he ever threw another no-hitter. Still, the thought of a third tantalized him. Only five other men can claim at least three no-nos. Verlander could name them all: Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Cy Young and Larry Corcoran. One day, Verlander hoped his name would be the sixth.
"I've come so close," Verlander said. "Since I've had two, I think I've blown two in the ninth (inning) and another couple in the eighth. I was definitely aware of kind of the history aspect of it."
Only Ryan (seven) and Koufax (four) threw more than three no-hitters. Verlander is the only major league pitcher to throw two no-hitters at the same venue as a visitor. He secured his second one at the Rogers Centre as well, during his 2011 Cy Young Award season with the Tigers.
His black hair has grayed since then, and injuries in 2013 and 2014 threatened to derail his career, calling into question whether he could pitch into his 40s.
"It's been a long process for me to kind of get back to being the pitcher I want to be," Verlander said. "That last one in 2011 was kind of the height of my pitching as a young man."
His acquisition by the Astros two Augusts ago ushered in a new style. Verlander eschewed his two-seam fastball. Houston told him to thrive high in the strike zone and fire a four-seam fastball few can touch. Verlander struck out four Blue Jays in his 2011 no-hitter. Sunday, he totaled 14.
"I remember walking back to the dugout and telling JV, 'Your fastball is unbelievable today,'" Chirinos said.
Seventy-eight of Verlander's 120 pitches were four-seam fastballs. They produced 15 of his 23 swings and misses. Seven of Toronto's strikeouts ended against it. In the ninth inning, Verlander fired his hardest pitch of the game, a 97.2 mph fastball to Bichette.
Of the 28 Blue Jays he faced, five drew three-ball counts. Two came during a 21-pitch first inning during which Verlander's fastball control was, in his estimation, "horrible."
"But even though it was all over the place, the fastball had good life," Verlander said. "Even though I wasn't locating it as much as I would have liked, I still got some outs with it."
In what would become the 13th no-hitter in Astros history and second this year (Aaron Sanchez, Will Harris, Joe Biagini and Chris Devenski combined for one against Seattle on August 3rd), Verlander issued a walk to the second batter he saw. No other man reached. After the first, no inning required more than 16 pitches. He flew through the fifth, sixth and seventh on 27 pitches total.
Verlander struck out five with his slider, although he felt it fade later in the game. Against a Toronto lineup littered with youth and unfamiliarity, it might not have mattered.
The nine Blue Jays who started Sunday's game had 29 combined career at-bats against Verlander. Twenty-six were taken by Justin Smoak. He struck out in two of his three plate appearances.
"He was the most aggressive pitcher I've ever faced," said Bichette, who was playing in his 31st major league game. "He kept coming after me no matter what."
Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. comprised the top of Toronto's order. The leadoff man's father, Dante Bichette, was a home run champ and MVP runner-up during his 14-year career, and the other two have Hall of Fame dads. Verlander played with Vladimir Guerrero in the 2007 All-Star Game. Craig Biggio is on the Astros' payroll and a frequent visitor to Minute Maid Park, and he was in attendance Sunday while Verlander schooled his son's generation.
"It's tough on both sides. It's tough on (Verlander) to set these guys up. He doesn't know what kind of approach they're going to feature," Hinch said. "I talk to (pitching coach Brent Strom) before every game and ask how he's doing. Strommy said he was pretty locked in. I said, 'If he throws a no-hitter, we're going to win.'"
For eight innings, that prediction seemed in peril. The Astros started a lineup without George Springer or Yuli Gurriel and mustered three baserunners across seven innings. Verlander pitched with a nonexistent margin for error in a scoreless game. A full-count at-bat against Biggio to begin the seventh accentuated his problem.
"It's a sticky situation there because it's a zero-zero game. Can I throw a chase pitch? Maybe, to preserve the no-hitter," Verlander said. "But we're trying to win a ballgame here."
After he finished the eighth, Verlander had his only in-game conversation with Hinch. The two men met on the dugout steps and determined that, regardless of score, Verlander would return for the ninth.
Toronto turned to volatile former Astros closer Ken Giles to preserve the scoreless game. Bregman led off with a bloop double, but two were out when Toro took his place in the batter's box for his 34th major league plate appearance. Bregman stood at third.
Verlander sat stoically at the far end of Houston's dugout. No one approached him. Decorum in no-hitters calls for complete silence toward the starting pitcher.
Toro torched a four-seam fastball that broke all rules. Hitting lefthanded, the switch-hitter hammered a two-run homer over the left-field fence. Verlander rose from the bench and offered a hug to the rookie.
"My reactions on the outside probably didn't reflect how excited I was on the inside," Verlander said. "I knew to have a chance, we needed that run in the inning."
"Because, I'm not going back out for the 10th, right?"
Game of Sunday, 9/01/2019 -- Houston Astros at Toronto Blue Jays (D) HOUSTON AB R H RBI TORONTO AB R H RBI J Altuve, 2B 4 0 1 0 B Bichette, SS 4 0 0 0 M Brantley, LF 4 0 0 0 C Biggio, 2B 2 0 0 0 A Bregman, SS 3 1 1 0 V Guerrero Jr, 3B 3 0 0 0 Y Alvarez, DH 4 0 1 0 J Smoak, 1B 3 0 0 0 A Diaz, 1B 3 0 1 0 R Tellez, DH 3 0 0 0 A Toro, 3B 4 1 1 2 R Grichuck, CF 3 0 0 0 J Reddick, RF 4 0 0 0 B McKinney, RF 3 0 0 0 R Chirinos, C 3 0 0 0 B Drury, LF 3 0 0 0 J Marisnick, CF 2 0 0 0 R McGuire, C 3 0 0 0 G Springer, PH-CF 1 0 0 0 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Totals 27 0 0 0 Totals 32 2 5 2 Houston 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 - 2 5 0 Toronto 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 0 0 0 HOUSTON IP BF H R ER BB SO HR PIT-STR J Verlander (W 17-5) 9.0 28 0 0 0 1 14 0 120- 79 --- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- ------- Totals 9.0 28 0 0 0 1 14 0 120- 79 TORONTO IP BF H R ER BB SO HR PIT-STR W Font 2.0 8 1 0 0 1 3 0 39- 28 S Gaviglio 3.0 9 0 0 0 0 3 0 29- 21 Z Godley 3.0 12 2 0 0 0 2 0 46- 29 K Giles (L 2-3) 1.0 5 2 2 2 0 1 1 14- 10 --- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- ------- Totals 9.0 34 5 2 2 1 9 1 128- 88 HR - A Toro (2). 2B - A Diaz (7), Bregman (31). HBP - A Diaz (3). Team LOB (w RISP) - Hou 5 (1 for 8), Tor 1 (0 for 1). Attendance: 24,104 Time of game: 2:29 Umpires: HP - Emmel, 1B - Blakney, 2B - Estabrook, 3B - Dreckman.