DETROIT - JULY 31: Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers pitches in the seveth inning during the game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Comerica Park on July 31, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers defeated the Angels 3-2. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
This morning, Bill James published a piece at Grantland detailing the 100 best pitchers' duels of 2011. As you would expect, the Tigers make multiple appearances on the list. A certain most valuable Tiger, especially, shows up -- not just in the cover picture. As James points out, among the pitchers who appear most often on the list, Verlander shows up eight times and Doug Fister seven.
(As a Twitter user pointed out, the two even faced each other in a duel in June.)
What makes a good duel, you ask?
A pitchers' duel is a low-scoring game, obviously; a 1-0 game is the champion of its list. The term "pitchers' duel" implies that the starting pitchers pitch well, as opposed to staggering through five innings un-scored upon and handing it off to the bullpen. We think of a pitchers' duel more highly if it involves pitchers of stature. A 1-0 game is more memorable if it is Sabathia against Verlander than if it is Marco Estrada against Kevin Correia. Which, by the way, actually happened last year; Marco Estrada and Kevin Correia matched up on August 13 at Miller Park, and the result was a 1-0 game. Go figure. There's a woman involved somewhere.
You will not be surprised to learn that Justin Verlander's stoic game against the Anaheim Angels was ranked No. 1 on the list. If you are me, you will definitely be surprised to learn that it was the July 5 game against Dan Haren, not the July 31 meeting with Jered Weaver. That came in 10th. Too much scoring, apparently.
So, as Bill James is wont to do, this list got me thinking. What were the top 5 favorite pitchers duels of the Tigers' 2011 season? I do not have any formula for doing this -- as I suspect you don't. It's just a gut feeling based on a low, scoring, possibly important game. Massive bonus points if the Tigers won -- as you'll see!
I expect you to share your list as well.
I know, I know. Five runs were scored in this game. But it was actually a 2-0 game through the first 6 1/2 innings. Weaver had given up just four hits -- two for home runs -- and a walk. Verlander allowed one base runner -- Bobby Abreu walked -- during that time. You know how it ended. A bunt by Erick Aybar, scowls and bad feelings all around, but the Tigers and Verlander won the battle between Cy Young hopefuls. Detroit remained in first place by 2 1/2 games at the end of the day; the Angels fell to 2 games out in the West.
The pitchers met up as a pair of 70-59 teams clashed. Fister went seven innings of five-hit, no-walk shutout ball. Hellickson went seven innings with seven strikeouts. The game's only two runs were driven in by Austin Jackson.
This game had a lot of potential. Detroit led the Indians by just a game entering the contest. Both teams had their best pitchers on the mound. Detroit tagged Masterson for 3 runs in the third inning, and it would be all the runs the Tigers needed. Verlander had a complete game and struck out 12. (By the way, this game was Verlander's highest gamescore of the season, if you like that stat.)
With Detroit on a five-game losing streak and on the verge of being swept by the Pirates, Rick Porcello took the mound against Paul Maholm. A second-inning RBI by Casper Wells and fourth-inning HR by Jhonny Peralta were all the runs the Tigers could muster. Meanwhile, Porcello allowed only a hit and two walks during his eight innings on the mound to help Detroit cement the win.
Nine innings were not enough to contain this game. It was 1-1 entering extra innings. Fister went 7 2/3 with four hits, no walks and six strikeouts. Francis went 6 2/3 with two hits, one walk, two strikeouts.
This one had all the makings of a good early-season matchup. Half of the duel did not disappoint. Justin Verlander did not allow a baserunner before the eighth inning and completed the game for his second career no-hitter.