Justin Verlander hadn’t thrown a no-hitter since 2011 when he took the mound against the Toronto Blue Jays (the same team he no-hit 8 years ago) on Sunday, and it appeared to be yet another regular start for the future Hall of Famer. But little did anyone know that this was no ordinary start, and Verlander was about to join elite company.
While Verlander only entertained the opportunity of a perfect game for one batter – after walking Cavan Biggio following a Bo Bichette strikeout – he would be unhittable for the rest of the game. Verlander would strike out 14 of the 28 batters he faced and would allow zero hits in a masterful 120 pitch outing. Verlander also picked up his 250th strikeout of the season after striking out Justin Smoak in the fourth.
The Blue Jays also held the Astros scoreless for eight innings and in the top of the ninth, after an Alex Bregman double, rookie third baseman Abraham Toro launched a two-run home run off of Ken Giles to give the Astros a 2-0 lead.
“I could not be happier for that kid,” said Verlander, who sought out Toro for an on-field hug after the game. “Just an incredible moment for him, from Canada, able to do that and then get the last out as well. Such a special moment and I’m happy I’m able to celebrate with him.”
After Toro gave Verlander the lead, he came out for a dominant ninth inning performance. He began by retiring Brandon Drury on a groundout and striking out Reese McGuire on a 1-2 slider. Verlander would then face Bo Bichette for the final out and after working a full count against the rookie shortstop, Verlander forced Bichette to hit a game-ending groundout to third.
Regarding his final at-bat of the game, Bichette said: “I honestly thought I was going to get him, but then he made a really good pitch.”
“He is who he is for a reason,” Bichette added.
Verlander became just the sixth pitcher to throw at least three no-hitters in the majors, an elite club that includes the likes of Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, and Cy Young.
“It means a lot,” Verlander said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know that. I’ve come so close. Since I’ve had two, I think I’ve blown two in the ninth and another couple in the eighth.
“I was definitely aware of the history aspect of it. Definitely a big hurdle to get over and a very special moment for me.”
Verlander became the first pitcher to throw two no-hitters as a visitor in the same park after he also threw one at Rogers Centre in 2011 when he was playing with Detroit. Verlander’s other no-hitter was in 2007 for the Tigers against the Milwaukee Brewers.
“I guess I have to like this mound a lot now,” Verlander joked.
Verlander is the first Astros pitcher to throw a no-hitter since August 3, when Houston’s Aaron Sanchez, Chris Devenski, Will Harris, and Joe Biagini all combined for a no-no against the Seattle Mariners. The Blue Jays had not been on the losing end of a no-hitter since last May when they were no-hit by former Mariner James Paxton.
“I had memories of blowing a few in the past in the ninth inning, so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about that,” Verlander said. “… I think my fastball had been good all day, it had really good life on it. My slider was a little bit inconsistent, so I think I would have kicked myself in the butt a little bit had I gotten beat on a bad one. Just kind of leaned on the fastball the last inning, I was able to get some outs.”
“If you look at the list of names of people who’ve had (three), it’s a small list,” Astros pitching coach Brent Strom said. “(Verlander) is very aware of the history of this game. He knows the history of the game and knows what he’s chasing. There’s nothing wrong with that, to set your goals high.”
This no-hitter is yet another exclamation point on a slam dunk Hall of Fame career, and while Verlander chases more and more career records and thresholds, fans can sit back and witness one of the greatest pitchers of a generation perform at his peak, right before their eyes.