DETROIT (AP) — Justin Verlander nearly pitched another no-hitter, taking his latest bid into the eighth inning to lead the Detroit Tigers past the Cleveland Indians 4-0 Tuesday night and into first place in the AL Central.With two no-hitters already on his resume, including one in Toronto last month, Verlander (8-3) struck out a season-high 12 and dominated the slumping Indians until Orlando Cabrera lined a clean single to centre with one out in the eighth for his 2,001st career hit.
The hard-throwing right-hander finished with a two-hitter, giving Detroit sole possession of the division lead for the first time this year. He walked one, hit a batter with a pitch and has won six straight decisions.
Andy Dirks drove in two runs for the Tigers, who have won 12 of 16.
Still missing injured slugger Travis Hafner, the Indians lost for the 15th time in 20 games and fell out of first place for the first time since April 6.
The crowd of 28,128 groaned when Cabrera smacked a single to centre and flipped his bat toward Cleveland’s dugout. Verlander didn’t acknowledge the cheers he received a moment later and didn’t flinch or tip his cap when he got a rousing, standing ovation as he walked to the dugout after the inning.
Maybe that’s because he’s grown accustomed to this.
Verlander pitched his first no-hitter on June 12, 2007, against Milwaukee, then duplicated the feat May 7 in a 9-0 victory over the Blue Jays. In his next start, he took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning against Kansas City before Melky Cabrera’s two-out RBI triple broke it up.
Carlos Santana blooped a single to left with two outs in the ninth Tuesday and Verlander dropped briefly into a disappointed crouch. But he retired Michael Brantley on a routine grounder to end it after 2 hours, 24 minutes.
Yankees lefty Jim Abbott was the last pitcher to hold Cleveland hitless on Sept. 4, 1993, in New York.
Verlander fell five outs shy of becoming the sixth pitcher with three career no-hitters.
Four of them are in the Hall of Fame: Nolan Ryan (7), Sandy Koufax (4), Bob Feller (3) and Cy Young (3). Larry Corcoran, an ambidextrous pitcher who won 177 games from 1880-85, is the other one.
Verlander also was trying to become the sixth pitcher to throw two no-hitters in one season — including Roy Halladay, who tossed his second gem in the NL playoffs last year.
It was the second time in three days that a pitcher flirted with his second no-hitter this season. Minnesota left-hander Francisco Liriano, who tossed a no-hitter just days before Verlander’s gem in Toronto, carried a no-hit bid into the eighth on Sunday against Texas.
Verlander lowered his ERA to 2.66. He was one strikeout shy of his career high in a masterful performance filled with fastballs approaching 100 mph and knee-buckling curves that were about 20 mph slower with the same arm action.
He has won his last four starts and hasn’t lost since April 27.
Back then, Justin Masterson was on a roll for the Indians. Since then, he’s been in a slump for a team plummeting after a strong start.
Masterson (5-5) gave up four runs — two earned — on seven hits and five walks over 6 1-3 innings. He is 0-5 since his last victory April 26.
Verlander looked as though he might have another special night when centre fielder Austin Jackson leaped over the right-centre wall — getting his shoulder at the top of the fence — to rob Shin-Soo Choo of a solo homer in the second inning.
Verlander struck out two batters in three of the first four innings and didn’t need any more spectacular plays to finish Detroit’s major league-high ninth shutout of the season.
It was the second one for Verlander, and his third complete game. He has five shutouts and 13 complete games in his career.
NOTES: Tigers OF Magglio Ordonez didn’t play, but is expected to be in the lineup Wednesday night and Thursday against Cleveland. … Hafner is beginning a rehab assignment with Double-A Akron. He has been on the DL since May 20 with a strained oblique. … The Tigers might put C Alex Avila at 3B during their upcoming interleague road trip. … Cleveland RHP Jason Knapp had a second shoulder operation, another setback for a player acquired in the Cliff Lee trade.
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