The 2015 Detroit Tigers season will go down as a failure. A constant stream of faint hope drowned by a deluge of disappointment. At a point in the season when most of us are watching games with a detached interest, just passing the time until football season starts or classically “waiting ’til next year” Justin Verlander gave us a reason to care again. What might have been the most fun though was that it came out of nowhere.
There’s almost a monotony to a baseball season, and the last 6 weeks or so can be brutal when your team is out of it. There are things that should still spark your interest, like seeing how many home runs JD Martinez will hit, and watching Miguel Cabrera make an unbelievable batting average surge late in the season. We can watch our young players like Matt Boyd adjust and see what late season call-ups will excite. But there is an absence of drama and it reminds me of the Lions during the Barry Sanders years where often the team was a lost cause but we always wanted to see what Barry would do.
Then things like last night happen. A random Wednesday night with a team mired in yet another losing streak. You’re passively watching a game and things are going well, but you’re expecting the other shoe to drop. Then you kind of think to yourself about the 3rd or 4th inning, that the line score going into commercials has a ‘0’ in that hit column. You get a little more interested in the 5th as nobody reaches base and when you get through the 6th stuff gets real. Even watching at home you can feel the crowd start to react more with each at-bat and Verlander is picking up momentum fanning the last 2 of the inning.
It comes to the 7th, we’re now down to needing single digit outs and with the heart of the order up Verlander strikes out the side. It’s basically JV and James McCann going to work and everyone else holding their breath. We all know that we’re seeing something special, and the bottom half of the inning is something you endure as you wait for Verlander to take the mound again. You find yourself way more invested on a late August evening than you ever expected to be, hanging on every pitch. Whether you’re in the stadium or at home we’re all feeling uncomfortable with every ball and tensing up with every swing. It’s that wonderful and agonizing feeling that every pitch matters, you’re stomach is twisted in knots and you hate it and love it at the same time.
On this night it wasn’t meant to be. The no-hitter was broken up in the 9th, it was a clean hit, no controversy. It was disappointing for sure, but that’s okay. In his post game interview, Verlander was a bit emotional as he thanked the fans for supporting him and the fans thanked him for a tremendous outing. It’s been a long time coming for JV and clearly it meant alot to him.
Justin Verlander may or may not “be back” and it’s not worth extrapolating too much out of one game (though the recent trend is exciting). For me it was a reminder though. Tigers fans have been so fortunate over the last decade. We’ve watched the best hitter in the game at his peak. We’ve seen some of the best pitchers ever to wear the Tigers uniform. We’ve seen JV do this multiple times, captivate us with every 97 mph fastball and nasty curve ball. We’ve been treated to more meaningful baseball than most other teams. And on a random night late in a lost season we all had a chance to have fun.