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Verlander makes history in Detroit

Verlander makes history in Detroit

DETROIT -- The last time a pitcher threw a no-hitter in Detroit, Tigers first baseman Norm Cash tried to step to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning with a table leg instead of a bat. Nolan Ryan was that dominant.

The Brewers stepped to the plate with bats, big ones. They had the National League's two biggest home-run hitters this season and the Majors' second-highest home-run total. Justin Verlander had them just as powerless.

And in the end, just as hitless.

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"It was what we call in baseball, 'filthy,'" Placido Polanco simply said after the 4-0 win.

No Tiger had thrown a no-hitter since Jack Morris in 1984, when Verlander was one year old. None had done it in Detroit since Virgil Trucks did it in 1952 in what was then called Briggs Stadium, not Tiger Stadium.

Most Tigers had no reference for it. Only a handful had ever seen one in the Majors in person. For many, it felt more like last October than last half-century. It was a World Series atmosphere, and from the way he was pitching, it was building from the early innings.

Verlander (7-2) has been putting together dominant stuff for much of the season, mixing his changeup and curveball to go with an upper-90s fastball. He shut out the Rangers for seven innings with six strikeouts last Wednesday at Arlington. Several Tigers said in retrospect that they thought he had no-hit stuff that night, too. On this one, all his pitches seemed to work, and the combination was impossible to solve.

"I think the pressure started mounting in the first inning, when he was throwing 100 mph with that curveball and changeup, you know?" J.J. Hardy said. "When he can throw them all for strikes, he's tough to hit."

Or in this case, pretty much impossible.

Hardy, second in the NL in home runs, hit a line drive to mid-range center field to end the opening inning. Corey Hart hit a sinking line drive in the seventh inning that required a sliding catch from Magglio Ordonez in what was shaping to be the play of the game until an inning later. Take away those and Hardy's fly ball to right to end the game, and everything else was either on the ground or -- more likely -- not hit at all.

"After the first couple of innings, I knew I had some good stuff going," Verlander said. "In the bullpen, it really wasn't that good, to be honest. But when I got out on the mound and flipped the switch, I had some pretty good stuff. I had a good fastball with control and I was able to throw my breaking ball and changeup for strikes."

Verlander retired the first seven batters he faced, three of them by strikeout, before the first of three walks to Bill Hall on the night. He rebounded to strike out Gabe Gross on two mid-90s fastballs and an offspeed pitch at 82 mph, then he overpowered Craig Counsell with three fastballs.

"Guys pitch no-hitters sometimes that don't have good stuff, so it does happen," manager Jim Leyland said. "When you see somebody that has this kind of stuff accomplish this, it's not that it means more, but it's a little bit different."

The 24-year-old struck out the side around a walk in the fourth, including a big curveball that looped onto the outside corner for a called third strike on NL home run leader Prince Fielder in his return to his onetime childhood home.

Once Verlander sent down Geoff Jenkins swinging at a changeup to lead off the fifth, the Tigers' suspicions about a special night were looking more like reality.

Justin Verlander, No-hitter

"Fifth inning, I'm looking up [at the scoreboard] and there's zeroes up there," first baseman Sean Casey. "I'm thinking if we could just get it to the seventh, he's got a shot."

It didn't matter that he was clutching onto a 1-0 lead at that point. Jeff Suppan (7-7), a pitching mainstay on the Cardinals team that beat the Tigers in the World Series last October, had retired 12 of 13 batters through four innings. The only hit in the game at that point was Brandon Inge's home run in the third.

Detroit's offense, which had been carrying the club to victories for the past couple weeks, took care of its part soon enough. Curtis Granderson tripled in Inge in the sixth and scored on a Placido Polanco sacrifice fly. Three consecutive hits chased Suppan in the seventh, capped by a Neifi Perez single scoring Craig Monroe.

Inge went 2-for-2 with a walk and accounted for three of Detroit's four runs. He also accounted for what turned out to be a key out in the second inning when he snagged a high chop from Hart to throw him out at first. Yet for the handful of defensive gems -- including a diving stop up the middle from Perez, who flipped behind his back to start a double play to end the eighth -- Verlander was the center of it all.

"That's about as proud as I've been for a teammate," Inge said. "I mean, he's going out there in the ninth inning throwing 100 miles per hour."

That, he would admit, was as much feeding off the crowd as anything. He struck out Counsell and Tony Graffanino swinging at offspeed pitches, then fired his first pitch to Hardy at 101 mph on the stadium radar gun -- 102 on the telecast. It was his 109th pitch of the game.

Pitch 110 hit at 99.

"That's why with one strike left and two outs, I stepped off the back of the mound and really just took a breather," Verlander said. "I kind of looked around for a second. I wasn't soaking it up or anything, I was just trying to calm myself down."

Hardy didn't have a table leg to trot out. When he flied the next pitch to right, catcher Ivan Rodriguez was out to hug Verlander by the time Ordonez caught the ball.

"I think I was more excited than him," Rodriguez said. "That moment when you see the fly ball go into his glove in slow motion, there's no greater feeling than that. I'm sure that he feels awesome; I feel great. I feel like I pitched a no-hitter myself.

"It was like winning in the World Series, to be honest with you."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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