In the modern era of baseball where home runs and strikeouts rule the day as the pitcher’s mound has become a daily revolving door, Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros gave us a glimpse of yesteryear for a brief shining moment last Sunday.
Transcending his own age of 36 years as well as the age into which the game of baseball has evolved, Verlander tossed his third career no-hitter Sunday with a dominating masterpiece over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Racking up 14 strikeouts and walking only one against a young and overmatched lineup on 120 pitches, Verlander’s no-no kept everyone in the edge of their seats as it took rookie Abraham Toro’s two-run home run to break a scoreless tie in the top of the ninth inning to set the stage.
With the masterful, pitch-spotting performance, Verlander probably wrapped up his second Cy Young Award, taking into consideration his AL-best ERA dropped to 2.56, his AL-best WHIP sank to an absurdly stingy 0.77 and his AL-best innings total hit 193. And let’s not forget his sterling 17-5 win-loss record.
During his entire career, Verlander has been one of the best pitching aces the game has ever seen, while standing out as an inning-eating, workhorse and building a Hall of Fame-caliber resume:
• Verlander joined Larry Corcoran, Cy Young, Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan with at least three no-hitters. All but Corcoran are enshrined in Cooperstown.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know that the list of guys that have thrown three instead of two gets pretty small,” Verlander said in the on-field postgame interview. “Some of the guys I idolized, it’s a special moment.”
• Verlander became just the eighth pitcher in history to throw at least one no-hitter for multiple teams, joining Young, Mike Fiers, Randy Johnson, Hideo Nomo, Jim Bunning and Theodore Breitenstein, who have each done so for two clubs. As the only pitcher to throw a no-no for more the two teams, Ryan tossed his seven in three different uniforms.
• Verlander’s gap between no-hitters — eight years, three months and 26 days — represents the second-longest gap in MLB history among 35 pitchers who’ve thrown at least two no-nos. Johnson has the longest gap at 13 years, 11 months and 17 days.
• His 14 strikeouts were three shy of the all-time record of 17 in a no-hitter, set by Ryan on July 15, 1973 for the Angels against the Tigers, and tied by Scherzer on the penultimate day of the 2015 regular season for the Nationals at the Mets.
• Perhaps fittingly, Verlander reached the 250-strikeout plateau in the process Sunday, becoming only the fifth pitcher in MLB history to reach that mark at least five times in his career, joining Scherzer, Ryan, Johnson and Roger Clemens.
• With roughly five starts remaining this season, Verlander’s shot at exceeding the 300-strikeout mark in a season for the first time in his career remains in reach. Only 17 pitchers in the Modern Era have struck out that many in a season.
• Verlander needs only 37 strikeouts to reach 3,000 for his career — a milestone only 17 MLB pitchers have ever achieved. By striking out 14 batters Sunday, Verlander brought his career total to 2,963.
• Verlander started his outing off with a 93.6 mph fastball and ended the game with a 96.9 mph fastball. Verlander’s five fastest pitches of the outing — two at 97.2 mph, one at 96.9 mph, and two at 96.3 mph — all came in that final plate appearance of the game as he approached 120 total pitches.
While Verlander has reached the 120-pitch mark 63 times in his 15-year career, only seven pitchers besides Verlander have done it this year.
So-called innovation and progressive thinking have led to earth-shattering changes to baseball’s landscape over two decades, not to mention the period since Verlander’s last no-hitter in 2011. Traditional roles have become obsolete, transforming the way the game is played, the way it looks, and the way it’s mastered.
But for one brief shining moment, Justin Verlander reminded all of us how the game should be played…then, now and always.