DETROIT -- On a clear June night at Comerica Park, a Tigers pitcher held down the Indians' lineup and nearly made history. But this time there was no Armando Galarraga, and there was no controversial call at first base to bail out Cleveland.
The Tigers had Justin Verlander with an upper-90s fastball, a curveball he could spot for strikes and a changeup that left hitters waving. The Indians had Orlando Cabrera, a .325 hitter off Verlander going into the night.
Cabrera got to the Detroit ace with a one-out single in the eighth, denying Verlander's bid to become the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1973 to throw two no-hitters in one regular season. Verlander didn't get the history, but he got a 4-0 shutout on a two-hit performance.
The Tigers, in turn, got sole possession of first place in the American League Central by taking the opener of this division clash. They're alone atop the division standings for the first time since July 10. The Indians fell out of first for the first time since April 6.
"Obviously, it's early in the season," Verlander said, "but you have to get there at some point. Hopefully we never turn back."
That doesn't mean Verlander can't look back to his night and wonder what almost was. The way he was pitching -- and Indians hitters were reacting -- it was difficult not to start thinking that he had it.
"Some of the swings they were taking -- I thought I had a decent shot," Verlander said.
He wasn't the only one.
|"I got my curveball going pretty good and my changeup pretty good. When I've got those two working, and my fastball's usually there, it's kind of tough on hitters, I would think, when I can change speeds and elevate and do what I want to do."|
-- Justin Verlander|
Alex Avila caught Verlander when he no-hit the Blue Jays on May 7 at Rogers Centre, and again when he took a no-hitter into the sixth against the Royals six days later. His batterymate at least had a feeling.
"By the fifth with him, when he's just cruising like that, it's not hard to notice," Avila said.
It happened just a short drive from the site of Tiger Stadium, where Ryan tossed his second no-hitter in 1973. Tigers first baseman Norm Cash provided the one highlight for Detroit that day when he stepped to the plate with a table leg he had taken from the clubhouse, providing a statement about just how dominant Ryan was before the umpire sent him back to get a real bat.
The Indians didn't go for the furniture, but the game had that feeling.
For six innings, the only Indian to reach base safely seemed to do so at Verlander's will. Catcher Carlos Santana, batting second in manager Manny Acta's revised lineup, took back-to-back brushback pitches, the second of which hit him. It seemed to be a reaction to something that went on during the Tigers' visit to Cleveland at the end of April, whether it was Santana's reaction to a walk-off homer to open that series or a hit-by-pitch to Miguel Cabrera at the end.
"Missed my spot," Verlander said.
It was one of the rare times that he did. The one hit he gave up was another, and it wasn't by nearly as much.
Seven of Cleveland's first 12 batters struck out, including four in a row into the fourth inning. Seven of the nine batters in the Tribe's starting lineup struck out, the exceptions being Cabrera and Matt LaPorta. Grady Sizemore struck out four times in as many chances, including on a nasty curveball on the outside corner to take the no-hitter through the sixth.
"He was dominant," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He had every one of his pitches working and throwing for a strike -- every one of them. He started early with the one sequence, and later on, he changed, but it didn't matter, because he was throwing all his pitches for strikes and every one of his pitches are above to way-above average."
The one Cleveland hitter to force a defensive gem was Shin-Soo Choo, whose drive to left-center took center fielder Austin Jackson to the fence before he made a leaping catch. Replays suggested the ball probably wouldn't have been a home run, but it would've at least been a hit.
With that taken away, Verlander started cruising.
"I got my curveball going pretty good and my changeup pretty good," Verlander said. "When I've got those two working, and my fastball's usually there, it's kind of tough on hitters, I would think, when I can change speeds and elevate and do what I want to do."
Michael Brantley's one-out walk in the seventh gave Cleveland another baserunner, but a swift reaction from Miguel Cabrera turned Asdrubal Cabrera's ground ball to first into an inning-ending double play and a no-hit bid through seven.
Danny Worth, inserted at third base as a defensive replacement, bobbled Choo's grounder but quickly recovered for the out to start the eighth. Enter Orlando Cabrera, who went 7-for-14 off Verlander two years ago but didn't face him last year as a Cincinnati Red.
Verlander had induced a groundout from him on a first-pitch fastball in the second inning, and in the fifth he followed up a 96-mph heater with a curveball that Cabrera grounded to third. The second baseman was one of just two Indians to connect on the curveball, which drew 18 called strikes, according to data on MLB.com Gameday and brooksbaseball.net.
Once Cabrera fouled off the curveball for strike one in the eighth, Verlander brought a 99-mph fastball on the outside corner. Cabrera lined it into center field.
"Cabrera put a good swing on the pitch," Verlander said. "Sometimes you just tip your cap, and that's one of them. The fastball was up a little bit -- more than I would've liked -- but still on the outside corner, and he had a pretty good swing."
Said Cabrera: "With that guy, you have to feel lucky anytime you get a hit."
Verlander (8-3) took the applause then finished the job, striking out 12 batters while using 117 pitches. The only other hit was Santana's liner to left with two out in the ninth.
Three Tigers runs in the third inning, including an Andy Dirks RBI single, provided more-than-enough support for the victory.