Note: This story was published in June 2011, shortly after Verlander threw his second career no-hitter. Then-Texas Rangers executive Nolan Ryan spoke to The News about all things Verlander, who late Thursday night joined Ryan’s new team, the Houston Astros. Verlander grew up idolizing Ryan, who’s a special adviser to the Astros, while his son, Reid, is team president. In interesting similarities, Ryan joined the Astros at age 33, while Verlander is at age 34. Ryan wore No. 34, while Verlander wears No. 35.
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Detroit — Nolan Ryan called Justin Verlander after the Tigers ace’s first no-hitter four years ago, but they haven’t talked much since. That doesn’t mean Ryan hasn’t been watching.
Hours after Verlander came within five outs of his third career no-hitter — and second this season — Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher who threw a record seven no-hitters, spoke to The Detroit News about the Tigers’ All-Star right-hander. Talking Wednesday afternoon from his office in Arlington, Texas, where Ryan, 64, is president and part-owner of the Texas Rangers, here are the highlights of the conversation:
Question: What have been your general impressions of Verlander, particularly lately?
Answer: Well, since he came into the league, I thought he was one of the best three or four pitchers as far as having dominating stuff. I really believe that’s where he is. He just seems to have been very consistent.
Q. Have you seen any growth from Verlander since you first saw him pitch?
A. Obviously, what I would say is the growth of his secondary pitches and the use of them.
Q. A lot of people in Detroit are starting to bring up your name when talking about Verlander. Can you draw any similarities?
A. I think when you see power pitchers of his nature with a good breaking ball then I think people start lumping people together, whether it be with a Roger Clemens or a Tom Seaver or a Randy Johnson. It’s all about people with not only power arms but also who have exceptional breaking balls.
Q. Verlander has talked often about starting to think no-hitter as early as the third or fourth inning. You threw seven of them. Did you start thinking about it that early, too?
A. No I didn’t, to be honest. I threw 12 one-hitters, and of all the 12, six of them were probably broken up in the ninth inning. So I’ve been there. Until you get all 27 outs, you haven’t accomplished it. I never tried to get wrapped up in that moment because of the disappointment. (I remember one time) I was a pitching a no-hitter in the ninth inning at old Comiskey Park (on Aug. 7, 1974), there was one out, and Dick Allen hit a topper to our third baseman, who couldn’t get it out of his glove and he beat it out for a base hit. They then scored an unearned run to tie the game 1-1, and we ended up getting beat, 2-1. I went from being in position to win a no-hitter to losing probably a two- or three-hitter. That’s a realization that until you get it done, you haven’t done it. After that, I never really tried from that perspective to put a whole lot thought into it.
Q. Can Verlander — or anybody — ever catch your seven no-hitters?
A. You know, I’ve always said that the seven no-hitters probably will be easier to break than the strikeout record (5,714). That’s gonna require somebody to log 5,000 innings, and the way they’re using pitchers nowadays, I don’t know that anybody’s gonna pitch those kind of innings. But if there’s a guy that’s got dominating stuff and they maintain that kind of stuff over an extended period of time, they’re going to be in position to throw some no-hitters, whether they do or not.
Q. Verlander prides himself in throwing a lot of innings, going deep into games. Do you see him as an old-school pitcher in that regard?
A. To pitch a no-hitter, you have to maintain stuff the whole game and you have to complete games. That’s a mindset in itself. If you don’t have that mindset, then you’re probably not gonna do it too often.
Q. So you say Verlander is top-five in the game. Do you believe he’s the best?
A. Yeah I do. He has that kind of stuff. But to be what (Roy) Halladay was to the game last year (two no-hitters, including a perfect game), he’s in that category, but things have to go right.