It’s rare for me to be in a bar, and even rarer on a Sunday, but there I was, nursing a beer that was rapidly getting warm while I tried to listen to what my friend was saying. But it was hard. Justin Verlander was on the TV, and I just couldn’t peel my eyes away whenever he would start to wind up.
Frankly, I don’t care if the Astros win or lose. I’m a suffering Detroit Tigers fan. I only know bad baseball these days, so other teams rarely make it on my radar. But when Justin Verlander is playing and he’s on television? Well, that’s something worth watching.
When Verlander secured his third career no-hitter with his 120th pitch of the game, I almost spilled that warm beer. I know I startled my friend, who wasn’t nearly as interested in the outcome of Verlander’s performance as I was.
Obviously I carry this strange attachment to the future Hall of Famer because of his time on the mound for the Tigers. He was my favorite player in the Motor City, and he’s still my favorite player in the league. In some ways, my fandom of him reminds me of when I was a kid collecting baseball cards. I loved my Tigers, of course, but it wasn’t rare for me to be lauding the abilities of Rickey Henderson or the amazingness of Nolan Ryan. They weren’t Tigers, but, man, I would have loved it if they were.
It’s the same for Verlander, except he was a Tiger and they let him go in late 2017. Since he first donned an Astros uniform, he has dominated the American League as the leader in strikeouts, wins, ERA, and opponent batting average.
To be honest, it still stings.
But the sting is easy enough to set aside when you’re watching him pitch. He’s such a dominant force in a way that just doesn’t really exist in baseball anymore. Gone are the days of pitchers throwing entire games and battling it out to the end. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I’m just saying times have changed, and the likelihood of getting a no-hitter dwindles more and more as starters are used sparingly and rotations used far more heavily than in days gone by.
Verlander’s career harkens back to a style of baseball that is going extinct. And this season? It’s potentially the highlight of his Hall of Fame resume.
As Bo Bichette stepped up to the plate for the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, he knew he was the focus of baseball fans across the globe. Could he stop Verlander’s latest quest for a no-hitter? As the ball slapped off Bichette’s bat and bounced toward third base, it became clear he would not.
The camera quickly switched to Verlander thrusting his arms above his head in celebration with a smile plastered across his face. I cheered. A few others did as well. Someone said “He’s going to win the Cy Young.” People around him agreed wholeheartedly.
It’s likely Verlander will bring home that coveted award, but what’s more impressive is the Astros ace is now in the same company as Young himself. Young, Bob Feller, and Larry Corcoran are the only pitchers in the history of the Major League Baseball to collect three no-hitters in their career. They stand behind just two legends of the game in that category of the record books: Nolan Ryan had an improbably seven no-hitters in his career, and Sandy Koufax earned four.
Verlander was already the most likely pitcher to win the AL Cy Young award, and this outing potentially secured the award for him. He not only is one of the top pitchers in terms of WAR, but he is tied for the MLB lead in wins at 17 with New York Yankee Domingo German and leads the league in strikeouts with 257. He also leads the American League with an ERA of 2.56.
Verlander has said in the past he wants to continue to pitch until he’s 45 years old. Will he? Time will tell, of course. He’s 15 years into his major league career, and in that time he’s earned honor after honor: Rookie of the Year, a Cy Young, MLB Most Valuable Player, and a World Series championship.
A third career no-hitter wasn’t a fluke. Are there more to come? Possibly. They are so rare it may not happen again for the Astros ace. What is assured is Verlander is headed to Cooperstown to be immortalized in the Hall of Fame. The only unknown that future holds is how many more accolades, records, and milestones will he be bringing with him.