Since his rookie season, Justin Verlander has been a prominent figure for the Detroit Tigers, growing into a franchise icon. In an age of five or six inning pitchers, he became a rare breed — a workhorse who chewed up innings with a blazing fastball and a knee-bending curveball. At his peak he was the best pitcher in baseball, dominating the opposition and winning several awards and accolades.
This season, his 13th in a Tiger uniform, has been challenging for the former MVP and Cy Young Award winner. Not only has he struggled personally, his team has languished near the bottom of the standings. As a result, JV’s name has been included in trade rumors.
The idea of Verlander wearing the uniform of another team probably seems strange to Tiger fans. Not only has the righthander been an ace and opening day starter for years, he’s become a team leader and mentor to younger pitchers. Verlander has also climbed near the top of many franchise pitching leaderboards. As of this writing on June 7th, his 178 wins rank seventh all-time among Detroit pitchers. Only five pitchers have started more games for Detroit, and only ten have pitched in more games for the franchise. He is, along with all-time franchise leader Mickey Lolich, one of only two Tiger hurlers to strike out as many as 2,000 batters.
But beyond the raw numbers, Verlander has provided several iconic moments during his tenure as a Detroit ace. There was a reason he earned the nickname “Must-See JV” during his years on the mound in Motown.
Here are the ten most memorable moments from Verlander’s career with Detroit, plus one.
#11. His first hit…finally
The season was barely a few weeks old and the Tigers were in San Diego to face the Padres on April 12, 2014, Verlander finally did something he’d never done in the big leagues: get a hit. He’d thrown no-hitters, struck out tons of batters, and won MVP and Cy Young awards, but the Tiger ace was still missing this piece of the puzzle, having gone 0-for-26. Watch the clip and enjoy his big smile.
#10. The almost third no-hitter in 2015 against the Halos
In 2015, for the first time in his career, Justin Verlander was hurt. He missed the first two-and-a-half months of the season after undergoing surgery on his pitching arm. He returned in mid-June and struggled to find his command for about a month. Most Tiger fans would have accepted a slow second half of the season for him, but JV had magic in his arm despite rustiness.
On August 26, he faced the Angels at home in a game between two teams out of playoff contention. Verlander breezed through the first two innings without allowing a baserunner. In the third he surrendered a walk but erased that mistake with a groundball double play. Three up and three down in the fourth and fifth. In the sixth, Verlander found his old self and struck out the last two Angel batters, each on breaking pitches. With a 5-0 lead in the seventh, JV smelled a third no-hitter. He fanned Kole Calhoun on five pitches. Next up was Mike Trout, whom Verlander struck out on six pitches, including a 98-MPH heater. Albert Pujols followed and quickly fell into an 0-2 hole. JV eventually got Pujols to chase a curve and struck him out too. That gave him five straight K’s and left him six outs away from a no-hitter. In the eighth, JV allowed a leadoff walk but got another double play grounder. He recorded the last out of the frame on a harmless ground ball. The Comerica Park crowd was going crazy. In the ninth, Verlander got two strikes on leadoff man Chris Iannetta. On a 2-2 pitch, Iannetta sent a ball down the left field line that just caught the chalk. It was a fair ball and a double, by about an inch. Verlander twirled around in disappointment after watching the ball meet the foul line. After a thunderous ovation from the home crowd, he gathered himself and got his ninth K before recording the last two outs for a one-hitter. A little bit of luck, and he’d have recorded a third no-no.
#9. The duel with Jered Weaver in 2011
At this point in 2011, Verlander and Jered Weaver of the Angels were rivals for title of best starting pitcher in the American League. But this afternoon in Detroit, JV served notice that he was greater with an incredible performance against Weaver and the Halos. Verlander held the Angels hitless for 7 2/3 innings, thrilling the sellout Comerica Park crowd. He won the game 3-2 to run his record to 15-5 as July came to a close. But the game featured other thrills, as in when Weaver buzzed two Tiger batters and jawed with the Tiger bench. In the seventh, with Detroit ahead 2-0, Carlos Guillen got some revenge against Weaver when he launched a deep homer to right field to make the score 3-0. But it was what Guillen did after he hit that homer that was sweet and unusual. Normally a quiet guy, Guillen dropped his bat and enjoyed the home run, staring out at Weaver before starting his trot to first. Guillen was getting a measure of revenge for when Weaver had thrown a pitch at Victor Martinez. Weaver erupted after the homer, pointing and hollering at the Tiger bench, the umpires, and the crowd. The hotheaded pitcher was quickly ejected and left the field in a tantrum. Verlander finished with a one-hitter over eight innings and won the duel.
#8. May 13, 2011: Making a run at Johnny Vander Meer
Only one pitcher has thrown consecutive no-hit games. His name is Johnny Vander Meer, who turned the trick in 1938 for the Reds. On May 7, 2011, Justin Verlander no-hit the Blue Jays in Toronto, narrowly missing a perfect game. Six days later, on May 13, he was back on the mound in Motown to face the Royals. Verlander was masterful again. He set down the Royals in order in the first, then allowed a leadoff walk in the second, but retired the next three KC batters on fly balls. Third inning: strikeout, ground out, fly out. Fourth inning: two more ground outs and a fly out. In the fifth: fly out, strikeout, and a harmless ground out. Five innings, no hits. It gave JV 14 straight hitless innings and left him 12 outs from a second straight no-hitter. In the sixth frame, JV opened with a strikeout on a 98-mile per hour fastball. He walked a batter and then got a ground out. The next batter, Melky Cabrera, ruined the fun: he laced a triple into the right-center field gap, sending a runner home. Verlander struck out the next batter and got three outs in the seventh. He allowed a double in the eighth, the only other hit the Royals got off him that day. He left after eight having allowed the two hits while walking three and striking out seven. In the two consecutive starts going back to his no-hitter in Toronto, JV had pitched 17 innings, allowing two hits, four walks, and striking out 11.
#7. Game Three against the Red Sox in the 2013 ALCS
The 2013 Tigers were favored to win the pennant and advance to the World Series. They had a fantastic starting rotation built around Verlander. In Game One of the ALCS in Boston, Anibal Sanchez handcuffed the Red Sox. In Game Two, Max Scherzer nearly pulled off a no-hitter, but the bullpen blew a big lead and Detroit lost a heartbreaker. With the series tied, the two teams came back to Detroit for Game Three. Verlander was strapped with the task of following the two excellent performances by his teammates. He didn’t disappoint.
Verlander held Boston hitless through the first four innings and he didn’t fool around: he used his heater. In the second he struck out Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Jonny Gomes in succession. In the third he fanned Stephen Drew, Will Middlebrooks, and Jacoby Ellsbury in order. That’s six K’s in a row. Verlander held Boston off the board until the seventh when Napoli hit a solo homer. Unfortunately his teammates could not score and the Tigers lost the game 1-0. But JV’s eight innings of four-hit ball with ten strikeouts were not the reason the Tigers lost that crucial game. On a big stage, JV was an ace.
#6. 100 miles per hour in the ninth inning against the Indians
Here’s another gem from the 2011 season, this one occurring on June 14th on a Tuesday night at Comerica Park. The rival Indians were in town to face JV for this one, and once again, Verlander dangled a no-hitter in front of the fans. Other than a hit batter in the first, Verlander did not allow a runner through six. In the seventh he walked a batter but induced a double play. He was five outs away from his second no-hitter of the season and second in a month, but Orlando Cabrera lined a single to center in the eighth. JV settled in and got the next two Cleveland batters. Fueled by his near no-no effort, Verlander came out for the ninth going for a shutout. Facing Grady Sizemore, he delivered a 101-MPH heater. Two batters later he hit 100, twice. He allowed a second single to settle for a two-hit shutout with a career-best 12 strikeouts.
#5. Manhandling the Yankees in the 2012 ALCS
The Tigers weren’t supposed to beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series this year. But after tight wins in the first two games at Yankee Stadium, they returned to Comerica Park for Game Three with Verlander on the hill for his first start after shutting out Oakland in Game Five of the ALDS. Once again, the big righty was on his game. He set down the first ten hitters before allowing a single to Ichiro Suzuki in the fourth. Then he ran up a string of eight batters retired to take the game into the seventh with Detroit clinging to a 2-0 lead. But with the way Verlander was pitching, that was more than enough. Ichiro got another single, but Verlander set down the next six to send it into the ninth still ahead 2-0. The ace allowed a leadoff homer and left one batter later still ahead 2-1. Phil Coke shut it down for the win, and the Tigers held a commanding 3-0 series lead.
#4. Dominating the Pirates on one-hit in 2012
This near-no-hitter on May 18, 2012 in Pittsburgh might be Verlander’s best game. He didn’t get the no-no (Josh Harrison slipped a groundball through the infield with one out in the ninth inning), but on this afternoon, Verlander was as dominant as he’s ever been. Sensing his third no-hitter, Verlander reared back and struck out all three Pirate hitters in the eighth inning, using almost exclusively his fastball. With Detroit ahead 6-0, by this time many Pittsburgh fans were pulling for him. He settled for a one-hitter with 12 strikeouts.
#3. A second no-hitter against the Blue Jays
The 2011 season was magical, and this game was JV’s masterpiece. Entering the game on May 7, Verlander had been a little uneven that season. His record was 2-3 in seven starts with a 375 ERA. He’d been struggling with his command early on the season, but against the Jays, Verlander was on point with all of his pitches. He only struck out four Toronto hitters, but he got 12 groundball outs and five harmless pop flies. He had a perfect game until he allowed a walk in the eighth. He struck out Rajai Davis to get the 27th and final out for his second no-hitter. The win propelled JV to his MVP/Cy Young season. After the gem he went 21-2 with a 2.18 ERA in 26 starts.
#2. Game Five vs. the A’s in the 2013 ALDS
Just as had happened in 2012, the Tigers found themselves in a must-win winner-take-all Game Five in the first round of the playoffs against the Oakland A’s on the road. And just like in 2012, they turned to JV. He didn’t disappoint. he retired the first 16 batters before allowing a walk with one out in the sixth. By that time the Tigers were ahead 3-0 and the game was essentially over. Verlander was not going to lose that day. Yoenis Cespedes broke up the no-hitter with two out in the seventh, but JV struck out the next batter and fanned two more in the eighth. He ended up going eight innings, allowing only two measly singles while walking one and striking out ten Oakland hitters.
The performance gave Verlander this line for his two Game Fives against the Athletics: 17 IP, 6 hits, 2 walks, 21 strikeouts, and no runs allowed.
#1. His first no-hitter at Comerica Park
This one has to rank first, mostly because it was the first indication that Verlander was super special. And the Comerica Park crowd fell in love with him that night too. The game took place on June 12, 2007 against the Brewers. The righthander had both his fastball and curve going this night, as he struck out 12 Brewer hitters but also walked four due to the action on his breaking pitch. He struck out the side in the fourth, and as would become his custom, he left plenty in the tank to throw hard late in the game. In the ninth he reached 99 miles per hour as he struck out leadoff man Craig Counsell on four pitches. He needed only three pitches to strike out Tony Graffanino, the fourth time he’d fanned the Milwaukee infielder. The final batter was J.J. Hardy. On his second pitch to Hardy, Verlander threw a 100-MPH heater that Hardy missed. It was 0-2. Hardy was able to foul a pitch off, but on the fourth pitch of the at-bat he was late on a Verlander fastball and sent a lazy fly ball to right that Magglio Ordonez gathered in for out #27.
It was the first no-hitter by a Tiger pitcher in 23 seasons and the first of many great no-hit rides Verlander has taken us on.