The Detroit Tigers have a long and storied history. One of the charter members of the American League, they’ve been the Tigers longer than the Yankees have been the Yankees. They were the first AL club to win three straight pennants. They built the first “modern” ballpark in 1912, at the time a state-of-the-art venue made from steel and concrete. The Tigers have more batting champions and batting titles than any other franchise in either league. Their history is filled with players who were among the very best at the plate.
But the Tigers have not been known for their pitching as much. In the more than 50 years that the Cy Young Award has been given to the best pitcher in baseball – or since 1967 – the best in each league, just two Tiger hurlers had garnered the honor.
Until 2011, when Justin Verlander earned the coveted hardware.
Well, JV won’t get the actual trophy until sometime early in the 2012 season, but on Tuesday he was named the 2011 American League Cy Young Award winner. Thus, he joins Denny McLain and Willie Hernandez as the only Tigers to win the top pitching prize in the game.
Verlander won the pitching “triple crown” in 2011, leading the American League in wins (24), ERA (2.40) and strikeouts (250). He also led in the non-official category of most durable and dependable. Verlander pitched at least six innings in every one of his 34 starts. he delivered quality starts (at least six innings and three earned runs or fewer) in 28 of those starts, including stretches of ten and nine games in a row.
Speaking of streaks, the ace right-hander won 12 straight from July 21 to September 18, going nearly three months without a loss or no-decision. Earlier, from May 7 to June 30, he ran off a nine-game winning streak.
Want dominance? Verlander tossed his second career no-hitter in Toronto on May 7, missing a perfect game by one very close pitch that resulted in a walk. In his next start against the Royals, he went 5 2/3 innings before surrendering a hit. Seemingly a threat to throw a no-no each time he stepped on the mound, on June 14 in a key matchup against the Cleveland Indians, Verlander went 7 1/3 before allowing a hit before firing a two-hitter. He frequently tossed 110-120 pitches per start.
Verlander may not win the American League Most Valuable Player Award, but just the fact that he’s in the conversation for that honor is testament to how amazing his season was. It’s one of the greatest by a pitcher in the last several decades, and ranks near the top for a Tiger pitcher ever.
At the age of 28, Verlander is a good bet to add more hardware to his growing collection in future years. Who knows? This century the Detroit Tigers may become known for their pitching excellence.