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Rookie McCann shares thrill of Verlander masterpiece

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Detroit — Once before, when he played at the University of Arkansas and Drew Smyly was within a half-inning of history, James McCann had known the tingle and the tension of a no-hit bid.

But a ninth-inning infield single ruined what would have been a merry pitching-mound leap and hug-a-thon for an eventual Tigers pitcher and catcher who then were well into their college careers.

Wednesday night at Comerica Park, McCann and his big league pitching partner, Justin Verlander, nearly got the grand prize that Smyly and McCann and their Razorbacks cohorts had missed.

With two career no-hitters already tucked into his archives, Verlander came within a Chris Iannetta double in the ninth of corralling his third during a remarkable display of precision pitching that ended in a 5-0 Tigers victory over the Angels.

"I think it was probably in the seventh inning, when the fans really started getting into it, that I began to realize we might be closing in on history here," said McCann, who was still partially in uniform long after Wednesday's game ended, almost as if a shower and clean clothes would diminish a summer night's drama.

"But we kept the same demeanor in the dugout. We just discussed how we were going to attack hitters. We took the exact same approach we had in earlier innings."

Verlander has taken a dozen or so no-hit bids past the fifth inning during his 10 years with the Tigers. A couple, including Wednesday's, have gotten away in the ninth.

It looked Wednesday like a no-hitter would happen. And all because Verlander's inimitable blend of power and marksmanship had the Angels looking, during some at-bats, as if some form of action hero was chucking for Detroit.

Verlander's heater was back and sizzling at its old Cy Young Award cruising speed that reached 97 mph. He all but splintered home plate's corners with a mean curveball. He threw his change-up in spots McCann had reserved for it. And he mixed in his fourth pitch, a slider.

"The biggest thing was his location," said McCann, a rookie whose steady season has become one of Detroit's best individual story lines in 2015. "Everything was crisp. Everything was sharp. Everything was located.

"We utilized the top of the strike zone and the bottom. We worked both sides of the plate."

Where a kid catcher set his glove, Verlander was generally finding it Wednesday. His rhythm and pitch-command were a blend of fury and craftsmanship.

It was pure Verlander. Pure, overpowering Tigers staff ace.

Accordingly, there was no second-guess on the 2-2 fastball Iannetta laced onto the left-field chalk for his history-spoiling double.

"We'd had success with it all night," McCann said. "Hindsight's 20-20. He put a good swing on it."

McCann shook his head.

"It hit right on the chalk," he said, replaying a moment that had nearly all of Detroit wishing for a re-do or a replay or some form of intervention that might wipe away Iannetta's double and allow Verlander a third no-hit crown.

History, in this case, wasn't subject to revision. Across the clubhouse a pitcher was grinning like Wednesday's moon and talking of his near-miss. A catcher sat in front of his locker, dusty brown socks testifying to his night in the dirt, and to his own brush with baseball lore.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

twitter.com @Lynn_Henning