Josh Harrison stepped in and — like the rest of his Pittsburgh teammates — looked overmatched against Justin Verlander.
Then, with two strikes, the Detroit ace threw a sharp breaking ball, just off the outside corner. Harrison stuck his bat out and flicked a soft line drive toward center field, preventing the Pirates from entering the history books on the wrong side of a no-hitter.
"I was so amped to hit his 100 mph fastball that I didn't even know where the ball was going," Harrison said. "He never threw me a fastball in that at-bat, but I finally got a pitch I could put my bat on."
Harrison's one-out single in the ninth inning broke up Verlander's no-hit bid, but the powerful right-hander was brilliant again for the Tigers, striking out 12 in a 6-0 victory over the Pirates on Friday night. Verlander allowed two walks and settled for his first career one-hitter. He nearly became the sixth major leaguer to throw at least three no-hitters.
The Pirates haven't been no-hit since 1971, when Bob Gibson did it against them for St. Louis. In fact, Pittsburgh has been no-hit only four times in franchise history.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who grew up in Michigan, could appreciate what his team was up against.
"I've wanted to be part of Tigers history since I was a little kid, and I almost was tonight," he said. "It would have been bittersweet, but to be honest, that was a beautiful thing to watch. That's a master craftsman with a power tool."
Verlander also fell just short of the third no-hitter in the majors already this season. Philip Humber pitched a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox at Seattle on April 21, and Jered Weaver tossed a no-hitter for the Los Angeles Angels against Minnesota on May 2.
"The adrenaline is like nothing else. You don't really feel anything. My legs were just kind of tingling," Verlander said. "Everything's amplified in that situation. You're like, 'Man, I don't want to throw the wrong one.' But you've just got to trust your instincts and go with what you feel."
Four of the five pitchers with at least three no-hitters are in the Hall of Fame: Nolan Ryan (seven), Sandy Koufax (four), Bob Feller (three) and Cy Young (three). Larry Corcoran, an ambidextrous pitcher who won 177 games from 1880-85, is the other one.
The 29-year-old Verlander, last year's AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, really brought the crowd to life in the eighth with three straight strikeouts. Casey McGehee went down looking at a 98 mph fastball, then Nate McLouth struck out swinging on a pitch that hit 99.
Verlander reached 100 mph with his first pitch to Clint Barmes, and after getting him to chase an outside pitch for strike three, he walked slowly to the Detroit dugout and down the steps closest to home plate on the third-base side — while teammates used another entrance at the opposite end.
In the ninth, Michael McKenry grounded to shortstop Jhonny Peralta on a 3-2 offering, and Verlander got ahead of Harrison before he reached for a 1-2 slider and sent a clean single up the middle that Peralta couldn't get to.
"You know what's happening, and you want to stop it, but that's not easy against that guy," Harrison said. "I thought I might have a chance, because I'd been seeing the ball pretty well all night."
Verlander (5-1) saw the ball drop in shallow center and bent backward on the mound, knowing how close he came to a third no-no. He settled for his sixth career shutout and 16th complete game. He threw 109 pitches.
"Would I rather it be hard-hit? Of course," Verlander said. "But a hit's a hit's a hit."
The sellout crowd at Comerica Park gave Verlander a big ovation and he quickly finished off the Pirates with a pair of groundouts. After the Tigers lined up for high-fives, Verlander saluted fans with a wave.
Verlander no-hit Toronto on May 7, 2011. His other no-hitter came June 12, 2007, against Milwaukee.
This was his first one-hitter, although he allowed one hit in eight innings against the Los Angeles Angels last season, one of several close calls to go with the no-hitter against the Blue Jays.
Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hit back-to-back RBI doubles in the first off Charlie Morton (2-4). Delmon Young added a solo homer in the fourth, and Don Kelly's run-scoring single later that inning made it 4-0.
The buzz began to build in the top of the fourth. Neil Walker hit a hard line drive off Verlander, but right at Brennan Boesch in right field. Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez then struck out.
In the sixth, McKenry made decent contact but hit a grounder right at Peralta. Then Harrison sent a drive toward left-center field. Kelly — playing center because of an injury to Austin Jackson — was able to make a running catch and keep the no-hit bid going.
Walker struck out looking to begin the seventh — then had a few words for plate umpire CB Bucknor. McCutchen walked for Pittsburgh's first baserunner since the first inning, but Alvarez grounded to first and Garrett Jones was caught looking at a breaking ball.
NOTES: Bucknor was shaken up in the first when he was hit around the collarbone by a wild pitch. ... Detroit's Drew Smyly (1-0) takes the mound against Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett (1-2) on Saturday.