DETROIT – Justin Verlander was making batters look helpless for a second straight game, using his dazzling array of hard fastballs and offspeed pitches to move within 10 outs of matching Johnny Vander Meer's feat of back-to-back no-hitters.
"I did want to tie him tonight, maybe break it the next time," Verlander joked.
That audacious plan will have to wait, but the Detroit ace followed his no-hitter last weekend with another sparkling performance Friday night, holding the Kansas City Royals hitless until Melky Cabrera finally lined an RBI triple to the gap in right-center field with two outs in the sixth inning.
Verlander ended up allowing two hits in eight innings in the Tigers' 3-1 win.
"Same as the last time — started thinking about it around the fourth inning," Verlander said. "Was just trying to make my pitches."
In his first start since throwing a no-hitter at Toronto on Saturday, Verlander (4-3) was trying to equal Vander Meer, who threw two straight no-hitters in 1938 for Cincinnati. He ended up settling for another outstanding outing. He struck out seven and walked three.
After Cabrera finally hit a ball nobody could reach, the home crowd gave Verlander a standing ovation as he composed himself before facing the next hitter.
"If I can maintain this rhythm, the stuff I've got right now, it's going to be pretty tough for hitters," Verlander said.
In 2009, Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox had a no-hitter broken up after 5 2-3 innings in his first start after a perfect game, according to STATS, LLC.
Austin Jackson and Jhonny Peralta hit solo homers for the Tigers off Luke Hochevar (3-4), and that was enough offense with Verlander on the mound.
"What's really unfair to the hitters ... he does such a good job of staying at 93, 94 early on," Kansas City's Jeff Francoeur said. "About the fifth, sixth, seventh, he starts to rev it up to 98, 99. I'm up ahead on the count, 2-1, you just see nasty curveballs drop in. It's just tough."
Before Friday's game, Detroit manager Jim Leyland said he wanted to downplay Verlander's previous no-hitter as much as possible, with the hard-throwing right-hander about to take the mound again.
Sure enough, aside from a few fans who stood and applauded him during pregame introductions, there was little acknowledgment of Verlander's feat before Detroit's first home game since the no-hitter.
Leyland may have been onto something, because Verlander took the mound looking as calm as he did last weekend in Toronto. He retired the first three batters he faced before walking Billy Butler to start the second inning. He didn't allow another baserunner until the sixth.
"He's got that kind of stuff," Leyland said. "I expect a game like this from him most of the time."
When Mike Aviles grounded out to end the top of the fifth, the crowd behind the Detroit dugout gave Verlander a standing ovation as he walked back. He was more than halfway to another no-hitter.
Cabrera broke it up the following inning.
"He threw me a changeup," Cabrera said through a translator. "He left it up, and I was able to hit it good."
Verlander got another standing ovation after striking out Alex Gordon to end the inning — and then another one when Aviles was caught looking to end the seventh. Aviles immediately flung his bat away in exasperation.
Matt Treanor led off the eighth with a double, but Verlander retired the next three hitters easily before leaving after 105 pitches. Jose Valverde pitched the ninth for his ninth save.
Vander Meer threw his no-hitters in June of 1938. The first was against the Boston Braves and the second was at Brooklyn in the first night game played at Ebbets Field.
Jackson led off the bottom of the first with a line drive over the wall in left-center, and Alex Avila drove in a run in the second with a groundball. Peralta's homer in the fourth made it 3-0.
Hochevar went six innings, allowing seven hits. He walked three — one intentionally — and struck out three.
Against the New York Yankees on May 2, Verlander gave up a hit in his final inning of his last start before last weekend's no-hitter.
NOTES: The Tigers have won six straight. ... Detroit's Victor Martinez extended his hitting streak to 12 games. ... Jackson was thrown out at the plate in the third, trying to score from second on a single to right. ... The Royals finished with three hits a night after they had a season-best 16 in an 11-5 win in New York.