Justin Verlander pitches for the Mets and won two World Series titles with the Houston Astros, but he will always be a part of Detroit. It was there that he began his storied career, won his first of three Cy Young Awards and his one Most Valuable Player Award and struck out two of his three career no-hitters.
So when three Tigers pitchers combined to throw the ninth no-hitter in club history — and the 20th combined no-hitter in major league history — Verlander paid attention. How was the rest of his family: Their group chat quickly exploded with talk of the first no-hitter thrown at Comerica Park since Verlander handcuffed Milwaukee in 2007 and the old highlights that were shown during the broadcast.
“My wife told me how young she was when it happened and then someone else told me how young I looked,” Verlander said, smiling and good-naturedly muttering an expletive that emphasized how long ago it was.
Verlander doesn’t know Matt Manning, the Tigers’ right-hander who mowed through the Blue Jays for the first six and two-thirds innings during Detroit. 2-0 win on Saturday, nor does he know the relievers who took over from there: Jason Foley (one and third innings) and Alex Lange (one inning). But more than any other active player, he knows that stadium, that city and the history of that team.
“Forever when certain things happen, I think my name will always come up,” Verlander said. “While I played there and some of the amazing things I was able to accomplish there, when you’re attached to an organization like that, of course there’s some part of you that wishes them well, no doubt.”
The Blue Jays, however, may not wish Verlander or the Tigers well. Toronto was the opponent when Verlander threw the second no-hitter of his career, on May 7, 2011, and it was the Blue Jays, again, that he no-hitted as a member of the Houston Astros on September 1, 2019 ..
While Verlander is one of only six pitchers to throw three or more no-hitters — Nolan Ryan (seven), Sandy Koufax (four) and Larry Corcoran, Bob Feller and Cy Young (three each) are the others — he’s also been good. met with combined no-hitters. He was in the dugout for two of them last year: Houston’s sweep of the Yankees in June (Cristian Javier, Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly) and the Astros’ memorable no-hitter against Philadelphia in Game 4 of the World Series ( Javier, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Pressly).
In one celebration way, Verlander said, combined no-hitters create a better celebration because it’s more team-oriented when multiple pitchers are involved. The World Series no-hitter, Verlander said, was “cool, unbelievable.”
But at the same time, he pointed out, “not to take anything away from the combined no-hitter, but you can even see in the media, exactly how it’s covered,” that the achievement is different. And with the way the game is changing, he noted, combined no-hitters will become the norm rather than the exception. In fact, 12 out of 20 have occurred since 2000, and nine of those have come since 2018.
While analysts have played an important role in the change, with some teams adhering to the principle of not allowing a starting pitcher to face the order a third time in a game, it also questions whether baseball is doing a disservice to. some not properly developing starting pitchers.
“I hope Major League Baseball doesn’t wait too long to address this because you get what you asked for, right?” Verlander said. “Teams are looking for players who throw 100 miles an hour and have one really good off-speed pitch. So instead of developing a good pitch, as a younger player you obsess over throwing the ball hard and spinning it.
“So you break instead of waiting for you to develop naturally. So you get what you ask for.”
Verlander, 40, said he and teammate Max Scherzer, 38, who has thrown two career no-hitters, sometimes discuss this topic. Between them, Verlander and Scherzer pitched in 939 games, threw 38 complete games, worked 5,997⅔ innings and earned 456 wins.
In a separate conversation Friday, Scherzer said: “I can’t stand what I’m seeing from young pitchers. I don’t feel like anybody’s developing arms anymore. All arms are breaking.”
In Manning’s case, the timing of his masterpiece was a factor in addition to modern strategy. A first-round pick in the 2016 draft, Manning, 25, was making just his fifth start of the season after suffering a broken bone in his right foot in April. A sore shoulder limited him to 12 starts in 2022.
“He’s been working hard,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch told reporters after Saturday’s game. “I almost took him out after five and after six. I sent him in for the seventh, but once a runner gets going, we have to worry about winning the game.”
In all, the three Tigers pitchers combined for 116 pitches and nine strikeouts. Manning walked three batters and hit one, while Foley and Lange were perfect in their shorter stints.
It was an accomplishment for all three pitchers no doubt, but one that came without the same level of distinction as a pitcher finished what he started. Verlander believes MLB needs to find a way to encourage teams to go back to developing top-level starting pitchers who can pitch games deep. That could help make lasting memories for the fans who come to watch, instead of just having them see a series of hard pitchers.
“I hope we don’t look years from now and see a whole league of just guys that nobody knows their names,” Verlander said.