Justin Verlander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning as the Detroit Tigers completed a four-game sweep of the lowly Astros with a 9-0 victory. The Tigers outscored the sad sack Astros 26-2 in the final two games of the series.
Verlander did not allow a hit for 6 1/3 innings, ex-Tiger Carlos Pena breaking up the no-hit attempt with a single. Verlander (4-2) would earn the victory, ultimately allowing two hits and no runs, striking out nine in seven innings.
Losing pitcher Phillip Humber (0-7) was badly roughed up by the Tigers, dinged for eight hits and eight runs in four innings.
The Tigers' offense was powered by the home run; Prince Fielder, Brayan Pena, Andy Dirks and Omar Infante all going yard. Dirks would have four of the Tigers' twelve hits, adding two RBIs. Fielder chipped in four RBIs on three hits.
The Tigers picked right up where they left off Saturday night, taking a quick lead off of Humber. Dirks singled with one out. Miguel Cabrera just missed going yard, Robbie Grossman catching up with his long fly to center at the base of the wall, 404 feet away.
But Fielder didn't miss.
Humber severed up a 86 MPH fastball disguised as a meatball, Fielder depositing the pitch a couple rows deep in the right-field seats. Fielder's eighth homer run of the season gave Justin Verlander a 2-0 cushion going into the bottom of the first.
A not-particularly-sharp Verlander went to full counts on the first two Astros he faced before putting them away, then walked Jason Castro on four pitches. As if flipping a switch, Verlander struck out Carlos Pena swinging on three pitches, ending a 26-pitch inning.
The Tigers kept hitting Humber hard in the second inning, stretching out their lead before anyone was out.
Don Kelly led off with a walk, Pena made it 4-0 by legging out a hustle home run which cleared the right-field fence. The Tigers' backup catcher buggy whipped a Humber belt-high pitch, lining it into the right field seats for a two-run homer, his first of the season. (MLB.com video)
Pena then sprinted around the bases, reaching third base before Kelly had even crossed the plate, raising the humor quotient of what was quickly turning into another laugher.
One down in the inning, Ramon Santiago joined the extra-base fest, bouncing a double just inside the first-base bag. After Austin Jackson walked, Dirks lined an RBI single to right, Santiago scoring, runners now on the corners for Cabrera, and still just one out.
Unable or or unwilling to throw a strike of Cabrera, Humber walked the bases loaded for Fielder. It was soon 7-0 Tigers, Fielder bouncing a two-RBI single through the hole in the right side to plate Jackson and Dirks.
When the carnage was complete, the Tigers had batted around, sending ten men to the plate. Humber allowed four hits, three walks and five runs. It took a diving catch by Rick Ankiel in right on Victor Martinez's sinking liner to keep the score a mere 7-zip.
Now working with a seven-run safety net, a much sharper Verlander set down the Astros in order, including his third and fourth strikeouts.
Humber actually kept the Tigers off the scoreboard in the third, allowing only a Santiago single. It was such a miraculous accomplishment, I had to document it in the recap.
While the Tigers were running up the score, Verlander was shutting down the Astros. The ace had not allowed a hit, facing one batter over the minimum through three.
The Tigers started a new scoring streak while Dirks big afternoon got better when leading off the fourth. Dirks launched Humber's low-80s breaking ball into the second deck in right field, his second home run of the season pushing the Tigers' lead to 8-0. (MLB.com video)
Verlander allowed his second base runner of the game, walking Pena with two down in the fourth. Verlander ended his fourth straight hitless inning by striking out last night's bat flipper, Carlos Corporan.
Having hung his starter out to dry long enough, Astros manager Bo Porter pulled Humber for recently demoted to the bullpen Eric Bedard. The veteran lefty stopped the bleeding, tossing a 1-2-3 inning, all ground ball outs.
Leading off the bottom of the fifth, Brandon Laird (Gerald's brother) was victim of base hit grand larceny by Cabrera. Taking three steps then diving to his left, Cabrera smothered Laird's ground ball in the hole. More spectacularly, Cabrera proceeded to throw to first from the seat of his pants while rolling over, firing a one-hopper to Fielder to get Laird by a couple of steps. (MLB.com video)
Verlander would get the next two outs without the need for spectacular defense, ending the fifth inning having not allowed a hit, but with a pitch count of 86.
The Tigers would threaten against Bedard with two outs in the sixth, Dirks walking (reaching base for the fourth straight at-bat), Cabrera singling. But Fielder's long drive to center stayed inside Minute Maid Field, Grossman flagging it down to end the inning.
With the score 8-0 in the middle of the sixth, the central drama was no longer about the offense or the potential sweep. It was all about whether Verlander could complete the no-hitter with his spiraling pitch count. Not helping matters was Fielder, who booted Marwin Gonzalez's lead-off ground ball for a legitimate error.
The big man quickly made up for his miscue, snagging Grossman's line drive off his shoe tops, doubling off Gonzalez. Verlander struck out Fernando Martinez to end another hitless inning, now at 98 pitches.
Verlander took his no-hitter into the seventh. He got the first out, Castro his ninth K victim of the afternoon.
Then all the questioning over how high to allow Verlander's pitch count became moot (he was at 107). Pena drilled Verlander's 3-2 pitch to right for a hard-hit, legit single, ending the no-hit bid after 6 1/3 innings. The Tigers' bullpen immediately went into action, as there would no longer be a reason to keep Verlander in the game.
No more no-no, Corporan followed by looping a single to left, Pena becoming the first Astro to reach second. But baby brother Laird bounced into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning and Verlander's day.
Infante joined the hit parade leading off the eighth, smashing a line drive off the brick arches in left. Infante's third home run of the season extended the Tigers' lead to 9-0.
After walking Santiago (who reached base for the third time), Bedard was yanked with one down, replaced by lefty Travis Blackley. He was rudely greeted by Dirks with his fourth hit of the day, a line single to right. Blackley got out of the inning when Cabrera bounced into a 5-4-3 double play.
Verlander relaxing the dugout, Darin Downs took the mound for the Tigers in the eighth. Unlike Verlander, Downs would pitch himself into a bases-loaded jam. He would then pitch himself back out.
Pinch-hitting for Ankiel, Brandon Barnes was hit by a Downs pitch. Ronny Cedeno and Grossman singled to load the bases with one out.
The Astros being the Astros, they were unable to capitalize. Downs struck out both pinch hitter Chris Carter and Castro to keep the shutout alive.
Downs finished off the shutout by striking out the first two Astros (four straight K's for Downs) he faced in the ninth, then watching as Jackson made an amazing running, lunging catch on Laird's drive to left center.
Now 19-11 on the season, the streaking first-place Tigers have won four straight, and are 9-1 in their last ten games.
Having lost six in a row and 1-9 in their last ten, the lowly last-place Astros fall to 8-24 on what is going to a looooong season.
A four-game sweep of the Astros in the books, the Tigers have the day off Monday. They are traveling to Washington D.C. for their two-game series with the Nationals starting Tuesday night.
The current probable starters in what should be a pitchers' duel are Anibal Sanchez (3-2, 1.82 ERA) and Jordan Zimmerman (5-1, 1.64 ERA).
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
Jim Leyland went with a Sunday lineup, infuriating some fans. Torii Hunter and Jhonny Peralta had scheduled days off, Alex Avila took ill and was scratched. Before fans lose their minds about batting orders and lineups, perspective is needed, as shown by a couple of BYB regulars:
Celebrating Cinco De Mayo, the Astros added "Los" to the front of their jerseys today.
If anyone in Houston had a sense of humor, they'd follow these "Los Astros" jerseys with "Lol Astros" ones in the next game.— Scott Rogowski (@DNR_Rogo) May 5, 2013
And in the game thread:
Los Astros? More like Losing Astros amirite?
They're trying to cut back on payroll, so they skipped the "ING"
Has there been a bigger fall from grace than Phillip Humber's in a little more than a year?
"I've pitched a perfect game before & now I'm giving up bombs to Brayan Pena & 6 runs in 2 innings for the Astros" - #humberbrag— Detroit4lyfe (@Detroit4lyfe) May 5, 2013
"But if I throw a strike, he'll hit it!" — Phil Humber, to his pitching coach, probably— Matt Sussman (@suss2hyphens) May 5, 2013
Humber threw a perfect game for the White Sox on April 21, 2012, and baseball pundits everywhere broke out a "Humber's finally figured it out" column. He's thrown the equivalent of batting practice ever since and might have hit rock bottom in this loss.
Including the first two innings, the Tigers had scored in nine consecutive innings against Los (Lol?) Astros. Until the third inning today, the last inning the Astros held the Tigers scoreless was in the third inning on Saturday (third innings being the Tigers' Waterloo in Texas). The Tigers had run up 26 runs in their last twelve innings.
At this point, the Astros had rolled over and played dead.
I've seen the Tigers struggle more against the Southern Florida Moccasins.— Eric Wayne (@PhilCokesBrain) May 5, 2013
Andy Dirks' fourth-inning solo homer off Humber was a curly-fries-guaranteeing bomb shot:
RF upper deck is far behind the fence, deeply recessed, and Dirks just reached it. Well over 400 feet.— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) May 5, 2013
Humber's final line was quite the piece of work: 4 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 3 BB, 1 K, 3 HR, season ERA 8.82.
FSD stat of the day: Miguel Cabrera is one of three Tigers to reach at least 45 hits and 35 RBI by the 30th game of the season. The others are Hall of Fame members Harry Heilmann (1921) and Ty Cobb (1925).
The Tigers would find themselves facing a conundrum at some point later in the game. Verlander was extremely effective (no hits allowed, seven K), but inefficient (86 pitches) through five. Bob Wojnowski, Kurt's columnist compatriot at the Detroit News, tweeted what we all were thinking:
You know who's quietly rooting for the Astros to get a hit? Leyland. Verlander has 86 pitches thru 5 inns. Pitch count could be problematic.— Bob Wojnowski (@bobwojnowski) May 5, 2013
The News' Lynn Henning agreed:
Tough for Verlander to average 10 pitches per inning the remainder of this game, especially when he draws so many fouls. We'll see ...— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) May 5, 2013
Though Verlander is a completely different animal compared to Johan Santana and his surgically repaired arm, Matthew B. Mowery of the Oakland Press give us this nugget to chew on:
The reason why Leyland might not let JV go as long as he needs: 3-7, 49.0 IP, 8.27 ERA, .327 BAA — Johan Santana's numbers since 2012 no-no— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) May 5, 2013
In the end, Carlos Pena let Leyland off the hook. Though there would be no history made, I'm glad it didn't get to the point where a no-hitter depended upon Verlander being allowed to post some ridiculous pitch count of 140-150, which would have been the case today.
If you are at all worried about Verlander and his velocity, STOP. Just stop it. He's fine.
While Verlander's pitch-count conundrum dominated the discussion, a segment of the Tigers' fan base was facing a conundrum of their own:
With Avila and Dirks hitting, the scapegoaters pickings are getting slim. I guess they'll always have Porcello— Cthulhu Whitaker (@jason_d_price) May 5, 2013
Well, here's a player we can all agree upon, right? Donnie Baseball!
For what it's worth, Verlander and Darin Downs combined for 13 strikeouts. A new streak begins.
After the game, Jim Leyland admitted he would not have given his starter carte blanche on the pitch count, even if a no-no was on the line. Verlander's max was going to be around 130 pitches.
Leyland on JV-"I really didn't think he had a chance to get there with his pitch count. I was thinking 125 pitches, 130 at the most"#Tigers— Ryan Field (@RyanFieldFSD) May 5, 2013
I would have loved to see how that discussion could have been handled with the uber-competitve Verlander.
Justin Verlander: Took a no-no into the seventh, ends up with a two-hitter. Verlander will get his third no-hitter. It just wasn't meant to be today.
Andy Dirks: Best game of the season. Dirks was 4-for-4, reached base five times, had a pair of RBIs, and a long home run.
Prince Fielder: Crushed the Astros' spirit with a first-inning home run while hitting 3-for-5 on the day, with four RBIs.
Pitch counts: They are a necessary evil. But talk of Verlander's pitch count kept fans from truly enjoying a marvelous performance.
GAME THREAD ROLL CALL:
|Roll Call Info|
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TOP TEN COMMENTERS:
When Max Scherzer throws eight innings and allows just one run, you would think he would be a PotG lock. You would think wrong. Why? Miguel Cabrera had one of the best game of his illustrious career; 4-for-4, reached base five times, three runs scored, six RBIs and two majestically long home runs. Cabrera is the overwhelming PotG with 93% of the BYB vote.