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Justin Verlander comes within four outs of no-hitter to beat Angels

July 31, 2011 | 12:55 pm


Fans filing into Comerica Park on Sunday were handed a poster commemorating Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander's no-hitter in Toronto in May.  Then they were nearly treated to an encore, with Verlander coming within four outs of another no-hitter in Detroit's 3-2 win over the Angels.

Maicer Izturis ended Verlander's bid for his third career no-hitter with a soft liner to left field on an 0-1 pitch with two outs in the eighth inning. An out later Verlander's day was over as well with the Tigers pulling their ace after 114 pitches.

The game was touted as a duel between Cy Young award favorites Verlander and Jered Weaver, and it lived up to the billing. But Weaver, who was nearly as brilliant as his rival, wasn't around to see the finish, getting ejected with two outs in the bottom of seventh inning after throwing over the head of Tigers catcher Alex Avila.

The background to that incident goes back to the third inning, when Magglio Ordonez put the Tigers in front to stay with a two-out, two-run home run. But Ordonez lingered in the batter's box, admiring his work, and Weaver made his displeasure known.

The right-hander didn't allow another hit until there were two outs in the seventh when Carlos Guillen homered. And Guillen stood at the plate even longer, then baited Weaver as he made his way around the bases.

Plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt went out to the mound to calm Weaver, then warned both benches. Weaver, however, ignored the warning, throwing his next pitch high and tight to Avila, earning an ejection.

He got his money's worth as he left, though, gesturing wildly and shouting profanities toward the Tigers dugout as players from the Angels bench came onto the field.

As it turned out, all the histrionics might have cost Verlander his no-hitter. Not only did the Tigers pitcher have to sit through an unusually long delay since Angels reliever Hisanori Takahashi was given unlimited time to warm up, but in the top of the eighth inning the Angels' Erick Aybar led off with a bunt, a provocative gesture in a no-hitter and one clearly intended to anger the Tigers.

It surely succeeded in rattling Verlander, who threw wildly to first, allowing Aybar to continue to second on the error. Then two batters later Verlander dropped a throw at the plate, allowing Aybar to escape a rundown to score the Angels' first run.

Two batters after that, Izturis lined a single into left field, breaking up the no-hitter and scoring Peter Bourjos from second base. Verlander escaped further damage by striking Torii Hunter out with a 102-mph fastball -- his swiftest and last pitch of the day. Jose Valverde, who leads the American League in saves, closed out the game with a scoreless ninth.

Verlander started slowly, needing 18 pitches to get through the first inning. But it took him only 58 more to get through the next six. And before Izturis, the Angels didn't come remotely close to a hit. Their  best-hit ball came off the bat of Vernon Wells, who drove right fielder Andy Dirks to the right-field wall to pull down his drive in the seventh.

Verlander, who in addition to his no-hitter in Toronto also threw the first no-hitter in Comerica Park history in 2007, started Sunday's game throwing in the low to mid 90s. He got his fastball dialed up to 100 mph for the first time in the sixth, clocking 98, 99 and 100 mph against Jeff Mathis before striking the Angels catcher out on a soft curveball.

By then the crowd of 36,878 was greeting the end of each inning with a standing ovation.

Weaver (14-5), who lost for the first time in more than two months, was almost as dominant. In addttion to the two home runs he gave up only two others hits, singles in the first and second innings.


Angels-Tigers box score

Mike Scioscia torn over how to handle rookie Mike Trout

Peter Bourjos improves batting but remain unsatisfied

-- Kevin Baxter, reporting from Detroit

Photo: Tigers ace Justin Verlander delivers a pitch against the Angels in the first inning Sunday afternoon in Detroit. Credit: Rick Osentoski / US Presswire