TORONTO – Justin Verlander took the mound for the ninth inning, fully aware of the no-hitters he finished – and his near misses, too.
Zeroed in, he wouldn’t be denied this time.
Verlander pitched his third career no-hitter, punctuating a dominant season by striking out 14 to lead the Houston Astros past the Toronto Blue Jays 2-0 on Sunday.
Verlander became just the sixth pitcher to throw at least three no-hitters in the majors, an elite club that includes the likes of Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax and Cy Young.
“It means a lot,” Verlander said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know that. I’ve come so close. Since I’ve had two, I think I’ve blown two in the ninth and another couple in the eighth.”
“I was definitely aware of the history aspect of it. Definitely a big hurdle to get over and a very special moment for me,” he said.
Verlander (17-5) is the first pitcher to throw two no-hitters as a visitor in the same park – he also threw one at Rogers Centre in 2011 with Detroit. His other no-no was in 2007 for the Tigers against Milwaukee.
“I guess I have to like this mound a lot now,” Verlander joked.
Verlander allowed only one runner, with Cavan Biggio drawing a one-out walk in the first inning. The Blue Jays, with a lineup full of young, aggressive batters, never came close to a hit.
The 36-year-old Verlander joined Ryan (seven), Koufax (four) and Young, Bob Feller and 1880s-era Larry Corcoran (three each) in rarefied air on the no-hitter list.
“Some of the guys I’ve idolized,” Verlander said.
And it came after a series of close calls.
Verlander lost a no-hit try in the eighth inning late in 2011, had bids broken in the ninth in 2012 and 2015 and had another attempt spoiled last May in the seventh by Jose Abreu of the White Sox.
Verlander’s wife, model Kate Upton, is currently attending the Venice Film Festival, where she tweeted out a message of congratulations.
“She was the first one I called,” Verlander said. “She was actually up very late watching the whole thing, so that’s awesome.”
Verlander threw a season-high 120 pitches, mixing a fastball that reached the upper 90s mph with a sharp curve.
The right-hander retired the last 26 hitters in a row. But he still needed help because the game was scoreless going into the last inning – according to baseball rules, Verlander had to pitch a complete game to get credit for a no-hitter.
That’s when Canadian-born rookie Abraham Toro stepped up for the AL West leaders. The Astros newcomer hit a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning off Ken Giles (2-3) that cleared the way for Verlander to complete the no-hitter.
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