No-hitter proves Detroit begins with 'D'
Verlander achieves history only after series of marvelous plays
DETROIT -- Brandon Inge thought nothing of it, other than a sigh of relief.
Brewers right fielder Corey Hart hit a chopper that took a funny hop right at Inge, forcing him to make a quick reaction. He caught the ball and fired across the infield for the second out of the second inning. It's the kind of play fans have come to expect of Inge.
"I glanced, and I almost took my eyes off of it," Inge admitted, "because I thought it was going into center field. I can't believe I even caught the ball. At the time, it was nothing. But come the ninth, every out is special."
On a night like this, some outs are more special than others. Justin Verlander dominated the Brewers with his pitching to become the first Tiger to throw a no-hitter since Jack Morris blanked the White Sox on April 7, 1984. With 12 strikeouts and just three balls in play out of the infield, his stuff was dominant enough that simply putting the ball in play was sometimes an accomplishment. But a handful of defensive gems made this no-hitter a team accomplishment.
"It had all the markings," manager Jim Leyland said. "A couple mistakes, a couple great plays. It had all the markings. A great job. All the markings of a no-hitter."
Some, like Inge's grab and a similar play on the other corner from Sean Casey in the third inning, came before they were thinking no-hitter. Others, like Magglio Ordonez's sliding catch in the seventh and a double-play throw behind Neifi Perez to Placido Polanco in the eighth, came with all the pressure of history on their shoulders.
"You want the ball hit to you," Casey said. "It was nerve-wracking, but you still want to be the one to make a play."
Casey handled a hard hop off the bat of Craig Counsell to end the third inning. Verlander didn't allow another ball in play for the next five batters, fanning four and walking one. By the time Detroit's defense was again tested, the no-hitter pressure was building.
Verlander had struck out Prince Fielder in the fourth on a nasty curveball for a called third strike. When Fielder came up again to lead off the seventh, Verlander's big play wasn't the throw, but the catch.
Verlander started him off with a fastball. Fielder, not waiting for another breaking ball or offspeed pitch to fool him, swung away and slapped it back up the middle. The one-hopper required that Verlander make a hop and a reach over his head. He came up with the ball and fired an offspeed delivery to first. It ended up in the box score looking like a routine comebacker.
As Verlander said later, "I was like, 'Whew!'"
Another fastball, another sigh of relief, but Ordonez's catch was bigger. Hart, having nearly singled in the second inning, put the ball in the outfield for the first time since the Brewers' third batter of the game. However, his sinking line drive wasn't headed very far into right.
"With Magglio in the outfield, I didn't think he was going to catch it," Brewers manager Ned Yost said.
Ordonez is not the fleetest of outfielders, but he has made a talent of sliding catches this season as his range has improved. Casey was cognizant of that range as he saw Hart's ball sinking.
"I was thinking, 'Here we go,'" Casey said. "But I knew it was struck good enough to get to Maggs. When he caught it, I jumped up and down."
It required a slide from Ordonez to get his glove underneath the ball before it could reach the ground. Until Perez in the eighth, it was looking like the play of the game.
Little more than a week ago, when Perez filled in at shortstop in Cleveland while Carlos Guillen was dealing with a strained groin, he talked about the challenge of staying fresh defensively while not playing often. His defense in that series included a diving stop and flip for a forceout at second.
On Tuesday, he one-upped himself. After Bill Hall's third walk of the night put a runner on first, Gabe Gross smacked a hard-hit bouncer up the middle, hard enough that it nearly toppled Perez over as he hit the infield dirt to try to catch it.
"I knew I hit it real hard, but as soon as I looked up, it was right at [Perez]," Gross said. "I thought it maybe had a chance to skip by or get over his glove, but he made a good play. [If he's standing] a step toward [third base], and maybe it's by him. It wasn't going to happen tonight."
The way the Tigers were playing, they figured as much. As Perez sat up, Polanco was already at second base, waiting for a throw. Perez arguably topped his catch by flipping the ball behind him towards the bag.
Polanco caught it, then fired to first just in time to beat Gross.
"I've really got to give these guys credit," Verlander said. "Magglio had that great catch. Neifi and Polanco on that double play."
Take away either of those, or the plays Casey and Inge made before them, and Verlander doesn't get to the ninth with a chance at history.
As Verlander fielded congratulations and interviews, soaked by a postgame celebration, Ordonez was asked if Verlander had thanked him.
"He will," Ordonez smiled. "Maybe tomorrow. He's a little busy right now."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.