For his birthday, my in-laws sent a DVD to my eight-year-old son. It wasn't Despicable Me 2 or any of that other cockamamie crap. Nope. It was the DVD of Justin Verlander's no-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 12, 2007.
Since the Tigers played day baseball yesterday, my son was busy receiving high-quality public education during game time. He was bummed that he missed out on seeing all the small-ball tactics the Tigers pulled out in the fourth inning; he was even more bummed that he didn't get to see Verlander pitch. I suggested that we watch the Justin Verlander DVD he had gotten for his birthday, and he was all about that life.
My son was only a year old when Justin Verlander took the mound that day, pants as tight as they've ever been, and twirled a gem against the Brew Crew. This was his first time ever seeing Verlander's impressive feat. In all actuality, I don't know if he's ever seen Verlander at his absolute nastiest. I think we can all agree that it's been a few years since Verlander has looked as filthy as he did on that day in June.
The familiar voices of Mario and Rod delighted him. Even if he didn't know most of the players in this game, at least the guys doing the game would be familiar. Truth be told, though, there were actually more familiar faces in this contest than my son could have possibly anticipated -- it's just that they were all a lot younger and the uniforms were different than what he's used to. Look at the starting lineups from Baseball Reference.
JV looked great from get-go in this one. His first pitch was a strike to Craig Counsell, and he ended up striking out the first two batters he faced on curveballs that were, I mean, just really gross, you guys. Anybody who has been watching JV pitch for as long as I have knows exactly the type of curveball I'm talking about: it's the one he throws that starts out about belt high before just falling off the face of the Earth. It's also quite delightful when he starts that thing up high so the batter gives up on it before it just drops right in to the zone. Anyway, that's the type of curveball JV was throwing on this particular day.
In the bottom of the first inning, Gary Sheffield came to the plate, and he brought his violent swing with him.
My son asked me, "What is he doing with his bat? Why is he waving it around like that?"
I chuckled, because it had been so long since I thought about how insane Gary Sheffield's swing is. "Rumor has it," I said, "that Sheffield started doing that to slow his swing down."
"Why would he want to do that?"
"Well. He swings really, really hard. Watch"
On cue, Gary Sheffield unleashed seven kinds of fury and swung so hard that he nearly fell over. This was hilarious to my son, who started giggling and exclaiming in disbelief.
"He does that with the bat ahead of time because it keeps him from getting way out in front of everything. That way when he hits the ball, it goes far and stays fair." This explanation was good enough for him.
When Prince Fielder came up to the plate to lead off the second inning, Rod and Mario started talking about Fielder and J.J. Hardy as the "future of the Milwaukee Brewers." It's sort of funny how those things work out, isn't it? In 2007 there was no reason to believe those two wouldn't be mashing dingers together in the middle of the Milwaukee lineup for years to come. But a lot can change in seven years. Hardy is having an unremarkable year in Baltimore as we speak, and Fielder left Milwaukee for a big pay-day in Detroit before belly-flopping his way out of town after two seasons. Other than Verlander's stellar pitching performance, one of the highlights of this game for me was when they showed Prince Fielder in the dugout straight up clipping his finger nails while Bill Hall was up to bat. I don't know why, but that was amusing to me.
The boy and I were both intrigued when Rod Allen started talking about Justin Verlander's knuckle-curve, a pitch he apparently used to throw before coming up to the bigs, but got rid of because it gave him blisters. Neither I nor my son were aware of the fact that Verlander ever threw a knuckle-curve, but the youngster was convinced that "it must have been pretty nasty."
Anyway, let's continue. Verlander carved up the Brewers that day. Sure, he walked four batters, but every other guy he faced just looked absolutely helpless. His fastball touched 97 in the first inning, and by the ninth it was dialed all the way up to 101. His curveball was doing things that barely make sense, and his change-piece had people flailing desperately. At one point, Mario Impemba described Verlander as "terrifying," which is about right. Rod Allen suggested that "it oughta be against the law, the stuff he's featuring today," which is silly, but classic Rod. I'd expect nothing less from him.
Actually, that brings me to another tangent. Rod Allen is just great, isn't he? Marcus Thames did not play in this particular game, so we didn't get to hear him talk about anyone as being "country strong," but he did use a couple other pretty great phrases -- most notably, "he put a little extra mustard on that hot dog," which certainly would have delighted Singing Hot Dog Man. My wife actually noticed that Rod said something nearly identical to a line he delivered just the other night. Talking about an upcoming road trip, Rod mentioned that he'd be home just long enough to do his laundry and get his suits from the cleaners before hitting the road again. Apparently some figures of speech are just worth hanging onto for seven years. Don't ever change, Rod.
Back to the game... again. Verlander had some help from his friends in this one. Brandon Inge belted a line-drive homer to left field, his 11th of the season, and Granderson came through with an RBI triple, his 13th three-bagger of the year. Not only that, but Verlander got an incredible double-play turned behind him by Neifi Perez and Placido Polanco, with Perez flipping the ball behind his back to Polanco after making a diving stop. Magglio Ordoñez also made a pretty incredible sliding catch in right field to rob the Brewers of a hit.
By the time the ninth inning rolled around, the entire crowd was on its feet. To be honest, my son was on his feet, too. When Verlander climbed over the century mark with his fastball, Rod Allen and my son both just started laughing. It wasn't fair what JV was doing to Milwaukee. When JJ Hardy lifted a flyball to right field, it was all she wrote. The Tigers stormed the field and began jumping up and down in a mob around Verlander; my son jumped up and down in the living room.
At the end of the game, Verlander finished with 12 strikeouts. He threw 112 pitches, 73 of which went for strikes. Simply put, this was Justin Verlander at his finest.
It certainly was a sight to see -- one of the earliest editions of Must See JV.