Toronto — Justin Verlander took the mound for the ninth inning, fully aware of the no-hitters he finished — and his near misses, too. Zeroed in, he wouldn’t be denied this time.
Verlander pitched his third career no-hitter, punctuating a dominant season by striking out 14 to lead the Astros past the Blue Jays, 2-0, on Sunday.
Verlander became the sixth pitcher to throw at least three no-hitters, an elite club that includes the likes of Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax and Cy Young.
“It means a lot,” Verlander said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know that. I’ve come so close. Since I’ve had two, I think I’ve blown two in the ninth and another couple in the eighth.”
“I was definitely aware of the history aspect of it. Definitely a big hurdle to get over and a very special moment for me,” he said.
Verlander, 36, pitched his first two no-hitters with the Tigers.
In 2007, Verlander no-hit the Brewers at Comerica Park, striking out 12. In 2011, a year in which he won the American League MVP and Cy Young awards, Verlander got his second no-hitter, also at Toronto. He carried a perfect game into the eighth inning before allowing a walk to J.P. Arencibia.
Verlander (17-5) is the first ever to throw two no-hitters as a visitor in the same park.
“I guess I have to like this mound a lot now,” he joked.
Verlander allowed only one runner, with Cavan Biggio drawing a one-out walk in the first inning. The Blue Jays, with a lineup full of young, aggressive batters, never came close to a hit.
The 36-year-old Verlander joined Ryan (seven), Koufax (four) and Young, Bob Feller and 1880s-era Larry Corcoran (three each) in rarefied air on the no-hitter list.
“Some of the guys I’ve idolized,” Verlander said.
And it came after a series of close calls.
Verlander lost a no-hit try in the eighth inning late in 2011, had bids broken in the ninth in 2012 and 2015 and had another attempt spoiled last May in the seventh by Jose Abreu of the White Sox.
Verlander’s wife, model Kate Upton, is currently attending the Venice Film Festival, where she tweeted out a message of congratulations.
“She was the first one I called,” Verlander said. “She was actually up very late watching the whole thing, so that’s awesome.”
Verlander’s younger brother, Ben, watched the final out of the no-hitter on a TV in a suite at Comerica Park while watching the Tigers-Twins series finale. Ben, a former Tigers prospect, jumped out of his seat at the final out and began to celebrate with his friends in the suite.
Verlander threw a season-high 120 pitches, mixing a fastball that reached the upper 90s mph with a sharp curve.
The right-hander retired the last 26 hitters. But he still needed help because the game was scoreless going into the last inning — according to baseball rules, Verlander had to pitch a complete game to get credit for a no-hitter.
That’s when Canadian-born rookie Abraham Toro stepped up for the AL West leaders. The Astros newcomer hit a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning off Ken Giles (2-3) that cleared the way for Verlander to complete the no-hitter.
“The whole dugout was going crazy because everybody knew what was one the line,” Toro said.
Toro made a routine play on Bo Bichette’s grounder to third base for the last out. Verlander joked the 22-year-old Toro, playing just his eighth game in the majors, was in for quite a nice reward.
“I could not be happier for that kid,” said Verlander, who sought out Toro for an on-field hug after the game. “Just an incredible moment for him, from Canada, able to do that and then get the last out as well. Such a special moment and I’m happy I’m able to celebrate with him.”
Said Bichette: “I honestly thought I was going to get him, but then he made a really good pitch.”
“He is who is for a reason,” Bichette said.
Only one Toronto player hit a ball harder than 100 miles per hour off the bat.
Just two other pitchers have no-hit the same team more than once. Cleveland’s Addie Joss did it to the White Sox in 1908 and 1910, while San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum held San Diego hitless in 2013 and 2014.
Seven: Nolan Ryan
Four: Sandy Koufax
Three: Larry Corcoran, Bob Feller, Justin Verlander, Cy Young
Two: Jake Arrieta, Al Atkinson, Homer Bailey, Ted Breitenstein, Mark Buehrle, Jim Bunning, Steve Busby, Carl Erskine, Mike Fiers, Bob Forsch, Pud Galvin, Roy Halladay (includes postseason), Ken Holtzman, Randy Johnson, Addie Joss, Dutch Leonard, Tim Lincecum, Jim Maloney, Christy Mathewson, Hideo Nomo, Allie Reynolds, Frank Smith, Max Scherzer, Warren Spahn, Bill Stoneman, Adonis Terry, Virgil Trucks, Johnny Vander Meer, Don Wilson
No-hitters in 2019
July 12 – Taylor Cole, Felix Pena (3), L.A. Angels vs. Seattle, 13-0
Aug. 3 – Aaron Sanchez, Will Harris (7), Joe Biagini (8), Chris Devenski (9), Houston vs. Seattle, 9-0
Sept. 1 – Justin Verlander, Houston vs. Toronto, 2-0
May 7 – Mike Fiers, Oakland vs. Cincinnati, 2-0