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 started his storied career, won his first of three Cy Young Awards and his one Most Valuable Player Award and fired 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 was paying attention. As was the rest of his family: Their group chat quickly blew up with talk of the first no-hitter thrown at Comerica Park since Verlander handcuffed Milwaukee in 2007 and the old highlights that were being shown during the broadcast.
“My wife informed me of how young she was when that happened and then somebody else told me how young I looked,” Verlander said, smiling and good-naturedly muttering an expletive that emphasized how long ago that was.
Verlander does not know Matt Manning, the Tigers right-hander who mowed through the Blue Jays for the first six and two-thirds innings during Detroit’s 2-0 win on Saturday, nor is he familiar with the relievers who took over from there: Jason Foley (one and a third innings) and Alex Lange (one inning). But more than any other active player, he knows that ballpark, that city and that team’s history.
“Forever when certain things happen, I think my name will always kind of pop up,” Verlander said. “As long as I played there and some of the cool things I was able to accomplish there, when you’re tied 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, yet again, that he no-hit as a member of the Houston Astros on Sept. 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 has also become well acquainted with combined no-hitters. He was in the dugout for two of them last year: Houston’s blanking of the Yankees in June (Cristian Javier, Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly) and the Astros’ memorable tag-team no-hitter against Philadelphia in Game 4 of the World Series (Javier, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Pressly).
In one festive way, Verlander said, combined no-hitters create a better celebration because it is 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, just the way it’s covered,” that the accomplishment is different. And with the way the game is changing, he noted, combined no-hitters are going to become the norm rather than the exception. Indeed, 12 of the 20 have occurred since 2000, and nine of those have come since 2018.
While analytics have played an important role in the change, with some teams adhering to the principle of not allowing a starting pitcher to face an opposing batting order for a third time in a game, it also calls into question whether baseball is doing a disservice to some by not properly developing starting pitchers.
“I hope that Major League Baseball doesn’t wait too long to address that 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 good pitching, as a younger player you’re obsessing over throwing the ball hard and spinning it.
“So you break instead of waiting for yourself to naturally develop. So you get what you ask for.”
Verlander, 40, said that he and his teammate Max Scherzer, 38, who has tossed two career no-hitters, sometimes discuss this topic. Between them, Verlander and Scherzer have pitched in 939 games, thrown 38 complete games, worked 5,997⅔ innings and earned 456 victories.
In a separate conversation on Friday, Scherzer said: “I can’t stand what I see from young pitchers. I don’t feel like anybody’s developing arms anymore. All the 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 only his fifth start of the season after suffering a fractured bone in his right foot in April. A sore shoulder limited him to 12 starts in 2022.
“He was laboring a ton,” Tigers Manager A.J. Hinch told reporters after Saturday’s game. “I almost took him out after the fifth and after the sixth. I sent him out for the seventh, but once a runner gets on, we have to worry about winning the game.”
Overall, 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 achievement for all three pitchers without any doubt, but one that came without the same level of distinction of a pitcher having finished what he started. Verlander believes M.L.B. needs to find a way to encourage teams to get back to developing top-tier starting pitchers who can pitch deep into games. That could help make lasting memories for the fans who come out to watch, rather than just having them see a series of hard-throwers.
“I hope we don’t look up years from now and see an entire league of just guys who nobody knows their names,” Verlander said.