Published May 08, 2011
TORONTO – Justin Verlander was picking up the check. The steaks and wine were on him, and why not?
He had just pitched the second no-hitter of his career, and after he made sure the Blue Jays pretty much came nowhere near the ball, he made sure his teammates came nowhere near the bill.
Fresh off the 9-0 victory, Verlander went for dinner at Barberian's Steak House in downtown Toronto.
"A great night," Verlander said. "It was fantastic. Probably one of the best dinners I've ever had."
Catcher Alex Avila, pitchers Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer, utilityman Don Kelly and video coordinator Jeremy Kelch joined Verlander for an evening of food, drink and cigars in the wine cellar of the historic restaurant.
"To be honest, the thing I'm going to remember is having dinner with those guys," Verlander said. "It was a pretty intimate setting, not a lot of guys, just a small group."
Avila, who caught the no-hitter, echoed his batterymate's sentiments.
"Those times are the best, when you can just enjoy something like that, celebrate something as historic as a no-hitter with people you care about," Avila said. "It was a good time, a good meal. It was definitely the best steak and the best wine I've ever had."
Verlander, a self-described "filet connoisseur," picked up the tab after ordering several high-priced bottles of wine to accompany the steaks.
"I don't think I could make those guys pay for that," he said.
In truth, the only ones paying for Verlander's brilliant Saturday were the Blue Jays, who managed just a single walk against the Tigers right-hander, the 2006 AL rookie of the year.
"You could certainly tell from the dugout he sniffed it," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "In the last three innings he almost took on a closer's mentality and he stepped on it for sure. The fact that he's thrown a couple of no-hitters isn't an accident. He was better than every guy that stepped to the plate yesterday."
For Tigers manager Jim Leyland, the most impressive thing about Verlander's performance was his relaxed composure on the mound and what that might mean.
"This could very easily be the game that turns his career from an outstanding pitcher to the next level," Leyland said. "It's the calmest I've ever seen his demeanor by far. Not like a bull in a china shop, he was calm the entire game.
"To me he's got the best stuff in the league, the best raw stuff," Leyland added. "Now he's still got to mold that stuff into being the best pitcher."
Verlander, who's been working on slowing down his rhythm since losing to the Yankees last week, was surprised and impressed by the results.
"When I started the game, I felt like I was playing catch," he said. "It was just really easy. I was just trying to hit my spots, stay nice and slow and methodical. I really didn't amp it up that much, except for two strikes here and there, until the seventh inning or so.
"When it got to that point my thought was 'If I'm going to give up a hit, I want to give up a hit on my best stuff. I don't want to give up a hit on some little blooper on a 93 mile per hour fastball down and away. I want to make them hit all I've got.'"
Verlander faced the minimum 27 batters. His only blemish, an eighth-inning walk on a 3-2 fastball to rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia, was immediately erased by Edwin Encarnacion's double-play grounder.
"That was as dominating a performance as I've ever seen," Leyland said. "It was almost a calm no-hitter. It was almost just like I'm at work, I'm doing my job. It was totally different from most no-hitters. You talk about a masterpiece. That's dominant."
Verlander fanned 12 in his first no-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 12, 2007. Thanks to his newfound calm, he said Saturday's game felt even better.
"It's probably the best I've felt on a mound in my professional career so far," he said. "Just the calmness and the ability to throw strikes and really do what I wanted with the ball."
Just as impressive, he blanked the Blue Jays despite struggling with his curveball.
"The only hard-hit balls were curveballs," he said. "My breaking ball on the first (no-hitter) was just tremendous and yesterday it was just OK. It really wasn't anything to write home about. Something to work on in between starts, I guess."
Despite not having his the curve, Verlander found success by taking something off his slider.
"That was very surprising for me, as good as it was, and it all goes back to slowing down in the first couple of innings," he said. "I was throwing it 82, 83 early on instead of 87, 88 89 and man, it had a lot of bite to it. It was really good. I commented to Alex after the second or third inning, 'Hey man, that's pretty good, right?' He said 'Yeah, it's nasty. Keep throwing it 82, 83 because it's got a lot of bite to it.'"
Leyland believes his 28-year-old ace has another no-hitter in him. Verlander agrees, even if Nolan Ryan's record seven feels out of reach.
"Long way to go to that one, huh?" Verlander said. "I really feel like I'm coming into myself as a pitcher, and I definitely think there's going to be more opportunities. Things have to go your way, things have to work out right, but I feel as long as I continue to mature as a pitcher and grow the way I think I am, there'll definitely be some opportunities there, whether they go my way or not."