November 15, 2011
Justin Verlander(notes) appeared to be a lock to win the American League Cy Young Award on Tuesday. Sure enough, he was listed first on all 28 ballots cast by BBWAA voters. He's the ninth pitcher to receive a unanimous vote, joining fellow Detroit Tiger Denny McLain, who won unanimously in 1968.
Though he seemed to have some competition for the Cy Young earlier in the season from Jered Weaver(notes), Josh Beckett(notes) and CC Sabathia(notes), Verlander eventually pulled away by leading the AL in virtually every pitching category.
Most impressive was his triple-crown victory, finishing first in wins (24), ERA (2.40) and strikeouts (250). Verlander also threw more innings (251) than any other pitcher and opposing batters hit only .192 against him.
During a season in which he was dominant throughout, it's difficult to narrow down Verlander's 34 starts to five great performances. But we're going to try anyway.
5. May 29 vs. Boston Red Sox: The Tigers were facing a four-game sweep at home by the Red Sox and falling seven games behind the Indians in the AL Central. Verlander was matched up against Josh Beckett, who at that point of the season also looked like a Cy Young contender. Looking every bit like an ace, Verlander shut the Red Sox out for 7 2/3 innings, holding them to just four hits. Only one of those hits came from the top five hitters in Boston's lineup.
4. June 25 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-Backs actually had a better record than the Tigers coming into this game. But Detroit was also just one game back of the Tribe, and ready to regain first place. Verlander struck out a career-high 14 batters, holding Arizona to four hits over eight shutout innings. With the win, the Tigers rejoined the Indians atop the AL Central.
3. June 14 vs. Cleveland Indians: Going by Bill James' Game Score, this was Verlander's best start of the season. The Tigers and Indians were tied for first place in the division. Verlander is matched up against the Tribe's best starter, Justin Masterson(notes). But the game was no contest. Verlander pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing only two hits. Additionally, he racked up 12 strikeouts, his second-highest total of the season. He received a game score of 94 for the effort, which he shared with Ervin Santana(notes) and Zach Stewart(notes) for the second-highest score of the season. (The Mets' Chris Capuano(notes) notched a 96 in August.)
2. July 31 vs. Los Angeles Angels: This is the game where Verlander may have won the Cy Young Award. It was a pitching heavyweight title fight: Verlander versus Jered Weaver, who took the mound with a 1.79 ERA. But in a game with unwritten rules being broken and tempers flaring, Verlander keeping his composure was the difference.
Meanwhile, Verlander took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Erick Aybar(notes) tried to break it up by laying down a bunt, which may have rattled Verlander. The Angels scored a run on a fielder's choice, followed by their first actual hit, a RBI single from Maicer Izturis(notes). It was the only hit Verlander allowed, as he then struck out Torii Hunter(notes) to preserve a one-run lead.
1. May 7 vs. Toronto Blue Jays: You knew the no-hitter would be at the top of the list, right? But Verlander came into the game with a 2-3 record in his first seven starts. Not exactly Cy Young Award material.
Verlander had an important breakthrough in this game, getting hitters out despite not having his best stuff. He only recorded four strikeouts, one of his lowest totals of the season. Verlander wasn't blowing hitters away, but was still getting outs, getting the Blue Jays to hit into several groundouts and locating his pitches beautifully.
He actually had a perfect game going into the eighth, until home plate umpire Jerry Meals called an outside fastball to J.P. Arencibia(notes) ball four. But with a 7-0 lead, Verlander had the game easily in hand and got a double-play grounder to get out of the inning.
Following a 1-2-3 ninth (meaning he still faced the minimum 27 batters), Verlander had the second no-hitter of his career, becoming just the 27th pitcher to achieve the feat multiple times.
Something clicked for Verlander after that no-no. He only lost two more games over the rest of the season, finally emerging as the dominant ace so many had waited for him to become.