Verlander relives amazing moment
Right-hander recalls collecting thoughts before final out
DETROIT -- For once, Justin Verlander actually had to take a pause.
He was a strike away from history, with two strikes on J.J. Hardy, two outs in the ninth and no hits allowed. He had back-to-back pitches around 100 miles per hour before hanging a breaking ball. He was feeding off the crowd, which was roaring. He was feeding off of his teammates, who were on the edge of the dugout.
Usually, he's the one who wants to go quickly, ready to fire the next pitch as soon as the ball's in his glove. The coaching staff will often try to slow him down. But even he sensed he was going too fast on his way to what he would later call the most special moment of his life.
"I stepped off the back of the mound and really just took a breather," Verlander said. "I kind of looked around for a second. I wasn't soaking it up or anything, I was just trying to calm myself down. I had so much adrenaline going because the pitch before that was up in the zone and pretty hittable. I had to make an adjustment."
His tempo was too fast. His career, though, is proceeding at a breakneck pace.
When the season began, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Tigers was how Verlander would follow up last year. He was the American League's Rookie of the Year last season, a 17-game winner who ranked among the league's ERA leaders for much of the season.
He was the starting pitcher the day the Tigers clinched their first postseason berth since 1987. He started the Tigers' second postseason game at Yankee Stadium, and he started the first and last games of the World Series. And by the end, he was tired.
The Tigers had Verlander rest his arm for three months before throwing again. It gave him a chance to physically recuperate, but it also allowed him to stick around home and relax. When Verlander was named the AL Rookie of the Year in November, he didn't realize right away, because he was out washing his car.
That pretty much fits Verlander's personality. He knows what he's doing, appreciates all he has accomplished so soon. But with all of it, he's not letting himself get enveloped by it.
Tuesday was no different. As the zeroes piled up Tuesday and teammates avoided him, trying not to jinx it, Verlander wasn't playing along.
"I didn't talk to him, I just left him alone," catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. "Then in the ninth inning, he tried to come over and talk to me and I told him, 'You know what, go away. Just do what you've been doing. You're fine. You don't have to change anything.'"
Verlander went along his way. But he still tried to find someone to talk to.
"The last inning, I went to sit down beside [Omar] Infante," he said. "He got up and walked away."
Verlander was on his own for this one. He'd have plenty of company after three more outs.
Amazing as the previous 8 2/3 innings were, it was just as hectic once Verlander took his pause. Hardy hit Verlander's next pitch to right, and Verlander tried to look back to see what happened.
"I wanted to watch him catch it," Verlander said, "but Pudge was yelling in my ear, so I guess he knew it was caught."
What followed was an outpouring of emotions in between the madness.
"It was kind of surreal, to be honest," he said. "The ball's up and I'm thinking, 'Oh my God.' I really didn't know what to think."
His teammates mobbed him around the mound. Jim Leyland was waiting for him just outside the dugout. Once he got there, they embraced, tears in Leyland's eyes.
"A lot of things go through your mind when something like this happens," Leyland said.
"He really didn't say anything; he didn't have to," Verlander said. "He gave me a big hug and really didn't have to say anything, I knew how he felt. And I feel the same way about him."
The last hug, and the longest, was for his longtime girlfriend, Emily Yuen, who made it onto the field and jumped into his arms.
All in all, it was a much different atmosphere than for his other no-hitter.
"Let's see, in middle school, I had a five-inning, no-hit game," Verlander recalled. "That was my last one."
He hasn't had to wait long for greatness since he arrived here.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.