Detroit — What will we remember about Justin Verlander?
Woof, where do we even begin?
The right-hander has been a force in the Tigers’ rotation since breaking into the league for good in 2006 and winning American League rookie-of-the-year honors -- right on through late Thursday night, when the chapter was closed on his dominating days in Detroit with a shocking trade to the Houston Astros.
In 13 years with the Tigers, the former first-round draft pick became one of the greatest — if not the greatest — pitcher in franchise history. And if he goes into the Hall of Fame someday, he’ll certainly go in with a Tigers cap on his plaque.
Verlander was the ace of the staff for five teams that made the postseason, he won the MVP and Cy Young Award in 2011 and he should’ve won a couple more Cy Youngs, he threw two no--hitters, and overall, he was 183-114 with a 3.49 ERA and 2,373 strikeouts in 2,511 innings.
Today, we look back at 10 things we’ll remember about the man they called, “Must-See JV.”
THE FIRST NO-HITTER
It was June 12, 2007, a serene late-spring evening at Comerica Park, and Verlander had everything working against the Milwaukee Brewers. And when J.J. Hardy flew to right fielder Magglio Ordonez, Verlander had thrown the Tigers’ sixth-ever no-hitter, and their first since Jack Morris in 1984. Verlander struck out 12, including Tony Graffanino four times, and Geoff Jenkins three times. Other things that stand out about that night — great defensive plays by, of all people, Ordonez and Neifi Perez, and the seagulls, oh the seagulls. They swarmed Comerica Park all night long, even occasionally blocking Brewers’ hitters views during some Verlander pitches.
JV ON THE CALL
Verlander, who’s been mostly healthy throughout his major-league career, probably has a good eight to 10 years left in the game. But when he finally decides to hang it up, there’s no question what his next move will be — on the TV. Verlander loved providing in-game interviews during national broadcasts on days he wasn’t pitching, and always superstitious, he would beg to stay on the air if the Tigers’ bats were producing during his segments. And who could forget his appearance on "Conan," where he acknowledged to the masses his obsession with Taco Bell?
Verlander was a very good pitcher for four of his first five full seasons, but he took it to the next level in 2011 — a year he became the best pitcher in baseball. So spectacular all season, the year drew comparisons to Bob Gibson and Denny McLain in 1968, among other great campaigns. He finished 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA, 0.920 WHIP and 250 strikeouts in 251 innings, earning both the Cy Young and MVP awards (a first for a pitcher since Dennis Eckersley won both in 1992). The season featured his second career no-hitter — really, every time he took the mound, fans and media were on no-hit alert — and he allowed zero or one earned run in half his starts.
DEBUNKING THE DONALD
Over the years, Verlander hasn’t had too many struggles — but when he did, and doubters started to chirp, he was the master at shutting them up. Even, it turns out, a future president. On the morning of Oct. 16, 2012, Donald Trump tweeted, “Verlander is great but very beatable. Does not have a good ERA in playoff games.” Later that day, in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, Verlander went 8.1 innings, allowing one run on three hits. No Fake News there. Just good, old-fashioned dominance. (And, wow, there really is a Trump tweet for every occasion.)
Trump’s tweet, as most of them are, was interesting timing, especially since Verlander was fresh off his best career postseason start. Facing a do-or-die Game 5 in Oakland in the American League Division Series in 2012, Verlander threw a complete-game shutout, striking out 11, to get the Tigers to the ALCS. The very next postseason, the Tigers faced yet another Game 5 in Oakland, and Verlander turned in darn-near a carbon-copy performance, allowing no runs on two hits in eight innings while fanning 10 to get the Tigers to the ALCS against the Red Sox. The “I’ve Got This” haven’t gotten old, ever since.
JV AT THE BAT
With all the money in baseball these days, we often forget it’s really just adults playing a kid’s game. But Verlander was more than happy to remind us of that every time he had a bat in his hands. Verlander loves to hit, even though he’s not good at it. At all. Which made his rare successes so much fun to watch. Verlander went hitless in his first 26 career at-bats, with 15 strikeouts — essentially, an eight-year hitting drought. It finally, mercifully ended with his first at-bat of the 2014 season, when he singled off San Diego’s Ian Kennedy. Oh, what a smile Verlander wore that day. He actually finished with two hits, he now has four — and just last month, he picked up his first career RBI, celebrating on first base with a sheepish shrug.
THE SECOND NO-HITTER
Verlander started the 2011 season OK. Through seven starts, he was 2-3 with a 3.75 ERA. Then his fortunes changed during a day game in Toronto on May 7. Against a potent lineup, Verlander was spectacular, and finished with his second career no-hitter — joining Virgil Trucks as the only Tigers ever to throw more than one. It was darn-near a perfect game, if not for a border-line ball-four call by plate umpire Jerry Meals in the eighth inning. Still, Verlander still faced the minimum 27 batters in throwing a no-hitter that was very different than his first one, when he struck out 12. This time, he struck out four. Verlander would point to that start as the one that turned his season around. Starting with the no-hitter, he was 22-2 with a 2.08 ERA the rest of the way.
JV THE PROPHET
Verlander was injured much of 2015, making only 20 starts while having core-muscle surgery. His velocity was down. The secondary stuff wasn’t that crisp. He looked like he was maybe over the hill. And even when he returned to full strength for the start of the 2016 season, he got off to a terrible start, lowlighted by an ambushing by the Indians on May 3, 2016, when he was battered for seven earned runs on eight hits in just five innings of an ugly 7-3 loss. Later that night, Verlander took to Twitter to assure fans, “I’m going to dominate soon! I’m close. Doubt me if you want... We’ll see.” We sure did see. The very next start, he threw seven innings of shutout ball against the Rangers, striking out seven, and was 14-6 with a 2.42 ERA post-tweet. He would’ve won his second Cy Young Award, had two voters in Tampa, unbelievably, not left him completely off their ballots. Instead, his former teammate, Rick Porcello of the Red Sox, won the award, which didn’t sit well with Verlander’s fiancee, Kate Upton. The supermodel immediately churned out a tweet for the ages, a tweet you’ll have to find for yourself. Sorry. Family newspaper.
HIS OTHER CAUSE
Verlander’s life revolves around baseball, but there are other things that get him jazzed. Like cars. He has lots of cars. Cars you and I can never have, even if we can afford them, because they’re such limited-edition. He also loves his golf. I remember talking to him several springs back, a day after he met Arnold Palmer. He couldn’t stop smiling. But one of the causes nearest to Verlander’s heart is the armed services, even though he once told me he has no real-direct connections to the military. That hasn’t stopped from doing everything he can for veterans and active-service members, including launching, “Wins for Warriors,” which has provided mental-health support to Metro Detroit veterans and their families. He often gave his Comerica Park suite to veterans, among many other selfless acts.
JV THE TEAMMATE
This last one is the most recent on the list, and speaks to how he’s grown over the years. Early in his career and even into his prime years, Verlander often was seen as a bit aloof, but those who know him best rave about the teammate he’s become as he’s matured. That was on full display at Comerica Park late last month, during the three-round brawl that was the Tigers-Yankees game. After a second benches-clearing scuffle, Verlander had words with the team’s elder statesmen, Victor Martinez, apparently cheesed that Martinez had gotten chummy on the field with Gary Sanchez — after Sanchez had gone around sucker-punching the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos. Verlander walked away from the confrontation, before circling back and offering one more gesture to Martinez. A final goodbye, if you will.