By Mark Wilson
August 27, 2015

Justin Verlander was… Justin Verlander again.

For one sweet night in the Motor City, J.V. was motoring like his old Detroit Tigers’ self. He was wheeling, dealing and confusing LA Angels all over Comerica Park. 31,938 were in his corner all the way.

When he took the mound to start the 9th inning, Verlander was working on a no-hitter. He’s thrown two before Wednesday night; a third would put him in rarefied air. Only Nolan Ryan (7), Sandy Koufax (4), Bob Feller (3), Cy Young (3) and Larry Corcoran (3) had tossed more no-no’s.

The mere THOUGHT of another Verlander no-hitter seemed radical and preposterous the way this season has gone for the Virginia native.

He came into the game with exactly ONE victory to his credit. Oh, he was pitching better of late but still… even without run support, one win is… ONE win.

It’s late August for crissakes.

J.V.’s tailspin actually began following his amazing 2011 MVP/Cy Young campaign.

Even though he won 17 games in 2012, basically every one of his key stats were worse than the previous year. Ditto 2013. DITTO 2014.

When he came into 2015 as an injured 32 year old right arm, fear was in the eyes of Tigers’ management and fans. He had four years left on a contract extension that paid him a gaudy $28 million per annum.

Whether he threw one more pitch or not— Verlander was going to get that money through 2019.

Hell, there is even a peformance based option for 2020.

Thursday night was nothing real special; just another start against Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and the Angels.

Inning by inning, J.V. showed flashes of that 2011 J.V. By the fifth, I got my first text.

“Ok, guy. JV has the gem going in 5th.”

I responded back with a, “big deal. 5th inning is nothing.”

5th turned into the 6th which turned into the 7th. LAA was just not able to hit safely against the man who has worn number 35 in the Old English D for a grand decade now.

In fact, July 4th was Verlander’s tenth anniversary.

July 4, 2005 he debuted for manager Alan Trammell against the Cleveland Indians. He was freshly called up from Double-A Erie and promptly got shelled by the Tribe 6-0.

It was the second game of a doubleheader. The Tigers got swept that day at then-Jacobs Field.

Tram waited 19 days to stick Verlander back on the hill for a second MLB start.

Once again, it was the nightcap of a double dip against Minnesota. Detroit had won the opener 2-1. Verlander was even worse than his first effort (giving up five runs and eight hits in six innings). This time, it came at home and Tigers’ fans weren’t overly optimistic about their 2004 first round draft pick.

“He needs more work for sure,” Trammell told me in the clubhouse after. “We kind of stuck him in there a couple of times to see what he has but he’s not there yet.”

J.V. split minor league time in ’05 between Erie and Single-A Lakeland. He went 11-and-2 in those 20 starts with a microscopic E.R.A and boastful strike out numbers.

But, in 2005, same year that Comerica hosted the All-Star Game, Verlander looked far short of an all-star.

With Trammell gone after that season and Jim Leyland in place for 2006, Verlander went to spring training with a legit shot to grab a starting rotation spot.

He hasn’t left it since.

Outside of his first career injury, 309 times he’s answered the call and taken the ball. Add in 16 more post-season starts and you’re talking about 22-hundred hard-throwing innings of major league action. That’s not to mention the countless number of spring training games, practice tosses, warm-ups, etc.

It was no wonder he began ’15 on the disabled list. It was bound to happen.

Verlander is great, but he’s not Superman.

J.V. has still NEVER made a major league relief appearance. Guys like John Smoltz and Tom Glavine began their MLB careers the same way; going years before coming in to a game in relief. Verlander, like those two Hall of Fame hurlers, is a quintessential MLB starting pitcher.

Even his two rehab assignments at Triple-A Toledo were short and sweet. When he stuck a Mud Hens uniform on down the I-75 road, it was the first time he’d been around the bushes since ’05.

Eight innings and 12 strikeouts later, Verlander was back at his old Comerica locker.

Before toiling against the Angels, his numbers were pedestrian including that 1-and-6 record. Not all his fault, Verlander’s had tiny run support and a couple of blown games in there by the Tigers’ shaky-at-best bullpen.

As last night wore on, it was becoming obvious that manager Brad Ausmus would not NEED his bullpen.

After the seventh innning, it was reverberating around the baseball world that Verlander had a no-hitter going on. It started lighting up ESPN’s bottom line and The MLB Network started focusing in on what one analyst said could be, “the best no hitter of all the no hitters so far this season.”

There seemed to be general ROOTING for J.V. from all over.

Still a young man at 32, Verlander seems to be a lot older. Maybe its because he’s been around so long and through all the good times and bad with the Tigers since the breakout of ’06. He has been the one constant.

Remember, Miguel Cabrera didn’t show up in Michigan until 2008.

The past 24 months or so, J.V. has taken criticism on everything from his now-longtime girlfriend Kate Upton to his dastardly mega-bucks contract. Some believe it was one of the reasons Dave Dombrowski is outta here and doing work in Boston now.

Not true.

Owner Mike Ilitch wanted J.V. to have every bit of that contract that Dombrowski did. I believe it was Ilitch’s IDEA to reward Verlander with the $28 mil per.

Kate Upton?

Neither Ilitch or Dombrowski had anything to do with that move. That was ALL Justin (lucky stiff!).

Back to Wednesday night.

30-thousand plus at Comerica really felt something special happening in the 8th inning when, after walking David Murphy, Verlander got Erick Aybar to ground into the Kinsler to Iglesias to Cabrera double play. C.J. Cron proceeded to dribble out to Kinsler and J.V. was three outs away.

Three outs away from that THIRD no hitter.

The first came at Comerica in 2007 against Milwaukee with Pudge Rodriguez behind the plate. His second came in Toronto versus the Jays in 2011 with Alex Avila catching.

One inning away from perfect symmetry.

A no hitter every four years!

Comerica was ready to do some serious celebrating. I mean, the way THIS season has gone, everyone needed to cheer like it was playoff baseball.

Verlander would face the bottom three in Mike Scioscia’s lineup.

Chris Iannetta was up first.

Bang zoom! Double down the left field line.

No hitter OVER.

Yep, just like that. No dramatics. No two outs in the ninth heroics. Nada.

A rip job two bagger that hit chalk on its way to the corner in left. The white from the chalk line actually kicked up as if to kick Verlander in the face saying, “Not tonight buddy, boy!”

Yessir, chalk… can talk!

Iannetta goes in the books as another dude who broke up a gem in the 9th inning. His teammates applauded wildly. Trout and Pujols had no interest in being no-hit by a guy with a semi-bum arm.

Hey, did I say that??

With that “bum arm” Verlander calmly disposed of Kaleb Cowart on a swinging strike three. He got much-traveled David DeJesus to pop out to Iglesias. For out number three? He wasted Kole Calhoun with a pitch that K.C. could only fly to Anthony Gose in center.

Gose squeezed it.

5-0 Tigers final. A complete game 1-hitter for Verlander. He walked two and struck out nine. His E.R.A fell to a respectable 3.45.

Only a lucky poke and even luckier drop on some chalk by a catcher hitting below Mendoza at .179 was the difference between a tremendous night and… a piece of baseball history.

Speaking to Fox Sports Detroit after, Verlander was visibly moved by the fans’ reaction to his performance all night long. He waved with misty eyes and thanked them greatly.

Upton tweeted, “Justin Verlander is so inspiring working so hard at the game he loves to play. I’m so grateful I get to be around his amazing energy!”

She’s a good girlfriend.

Hey, Justin? I’d marry that supermodel if I was you.

Just saying.

Was this a turnaround game for Verlander? Maybe.

We’ll see what happens in about five days when he has to start again. Pressure is more on him than ever with Fister, Scherzer, Porcello and Price all gone now. He and Anibal Sanchez are the high priced pitching amigos on this team that has been somewhat gutted to no longer be a true contender.

Not just a contender for a World Series but also a contender in their own division.

Kansas City is king now. Good thing they have those crowns on their uniform logos.

In short order, the Royals rule the Central DESPITE four consecutive divisional titles by the Tigers. K.C. barely bothered to acknowledge as they rolled past everyone including the defending champions.

We know Verlander has three more years guaranteed once this weird and wacky 2015 rodeo is strapped into the barn. What the Tigers will look like, who knows.

Hell, next time out? J.V. could get shelled. It wouldn’t be a surprise.

But for one night in late August, with the kids heading back to school, Verlander looked like a kid fresh OUT of school. He looked like the Verlander that used to top 100 miles an hour on his pitches and put fear in even the most veteran of opposing hitters.

He looked like the brash, confident Verlander that would answer all the questions post-game at his locker without a sweat bead or missing a beat. He always has that Cheshire Cat smile on him to indicate he may have more he’s NOT telling you.

Yes, he looked an awful lot like the Verlander of old. He had us on the edge of our seat again.

He has about 84 million reasons to try and make sure it’s not the LAST time we see that magic act.