TORONTO – Justin Verlander took the mound for the ninth inning, fully aware of the no-hitters he finished — and his near misses, too.
Zeroed in, he wouldn’t be denied this time.
Verlander pitched his third career no-hitter, punctuating a dominant season by striking out 14 to lead the Houston Astros past the Toronto Blue Jays 2-0 on Sunday.
Verlander became just the sixth pitcher to throw at least three no-hitters in the majors, an elite club that includes the likes of Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax and Cy Young.
“It means a lot,” Verlander said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know that. I’ve come so close. Since I’ve had two, I think I’ve blown two in the ninth and another couple in the eighth.”
“I was definitely aware of the history aspect of it. Definitely a big hurdle to get over and a very special moment for me,” he said.
Verlander (17-5) is the first pitcher to throw two no-hitters as a visitor in the same park — he also threw one at Rogers Centre in 2011 with Detroit. His other no-no was in 2007 for the Tigers against Milwaukee.
“I guess I have to like this mound a lot now,” Verlander joked.
Verlander allowed only one runner, with Cavan Biggio drawing a one-out walk in the first inning. The Blue Jays, with a lineup full of young, aggressive batters, never came close to a hit in the Astros’ second no-hitter of the season — four Houston pitchers combined to blank Seattle a month ago.
The 36-year-old Verlander joined Ryan (seven), Koufax (four) Young, Bob Feller and 1880s-era Larry Corcoran (three each) in rarefied air on the no-hitter list.
“Some of the guys I’ve idolized,” Verlander said.
And it came after a series of close calls.
Verlander lost a no-hit try in the eighth inning late in 2011, had bids broken in the ninth in 2012 and 2015 and had another attempt spoiled last May in the seventh by Jose Abreu of the White Sox.
Verlander’s wife, model Kate Upton, is currently attending the Venice Film Festival, where she tweeted out a message of congratulations.
“She was the first one I called,” Verlander said. “She was actually up very late watching the whole thing, so that’s awesome.”
Verlander threw a season-high 120 pitches, mixing a fastball that reached the upper 90s mph (150s kph) with a sharp curve.
The right-hander retired the last 26 hitters in a row. But he still needed help because the game was scoreless going into the last inning — according to baseball rules, Verlander had to pitch a complete game to get credit for a no-hitter.
That’s when Canadian-born rookie Abraham Toro stepped up for the AL West leaders. The Astros newcomer hit a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning off Ken Giles (2-3) that cleared the way for Verlander to complete the no-hitter.
“The whole dugout was going crazy because everybody knew what was on the line,” Toro said.
Toro made a routine play on Bo Bichette’s grounder to third base for the last out. Verlander joked the 22-year-old Toro, playing just his eighth game in the majors, was in for quite a nice reward.
“I could not be happier for that kid,” said Verlander, who sought out Toro for an on-field hug after the game. “Just an incredible moment for him, from Canada, able to do that and then get the last out as well. Such a special moment and I’m happy I’m able to celebrate with him.”
Said Bichette: “I honestly thought I was going to get him, but then he made a really good pitch.”
“He is who he is for a reason,” Bichette said.
Only one Toronto player hit a ball harder than 100 mph (161 kph) off the bat.
Billy McKinney sent a grounder that first baseman Aledmys Diaz, playing an unfamiliar position in place of the injured Yuli Gurriel, stopped in the fifth. Diaz fed Verlander to end the inning.
“I think every no-hitter needs something to go your way,” Verlander said. “That was a pretty poor pitch that was hit pretty hard, fortunately on the ground, and AD over there is a great athlete and was able to knock it down and make a great play.”
Just two other pitchers have no-hit the same team more than once. Cleveland’s Addie Joss did it to the White Sox in 1908 and 1910, while San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum held San Diego hitless in 2013 and 2014.
This was the fourth no-hitter in the majors this year. The last one was by the Astros, a combined effort from Aaron Sanchez, Will Harris, Joe Biagini and Chris Devenski against Seattle on Aug. 3. Sanchez and Biagini did it in their first game since being acquired in a trade with Toronto.
Houston is the first team to pitch two no-hitters in a season since Max Scherzer threw a pair for Washington in 2015.
Oakland’s Mike Fiers and a tandem effort by Taylor Cole and Felix Pena of the Angels accounted for this year’s other gems.
Verlander is tied for the big league lead in wins. The eight-time All-Star and former AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner tops the majors in strikeouts (257) and innings (193) and leads the AL with a 2.56 ERA.
With the crowd of 24,104 getting to its feet to begin the ninth, Verlander retired Brandon Drury on an easy grounder and struck out Reese McGuire.
After that second out, catcher Robinson Chirinos went to the mound for a quick visit with Verlander. The count went full on Bichette, who fouled off a pitch before hitting a bouncer to Toro.
Verlander took a couple hops toward first as he watched Toro field the ball, saw the throw on target and then began the celebration in the middle of the diamond.
Not bad for an ace who was ejected in his previous start. Verlander was tossed last Tuesday at home shortly after a close pitch didn’t go his way against Tampa Bay.
It was Verlander’s ninth career shutout and first this season. This was the 13th no-hitter for the Astros, including one by Ryan.
The Blue Jays were no-hit for the sixth time. Before Sunday, the last to do it was Seattle’s James Paxton, who became the first Canadian pitcher to throw a big league no-hitter north of the border when he beat the Blue Jays on May 8, 2018.
Mariners 11, Rangers 3
In Arlington, Texas, Yusei Kikuchi picked up his sixth win behind a slugging offense in Seattle’s rout of the Rangers.
Kikuchi allowed three runs on six hits over five innings and improved to 6-9 in his rookie season after the Mariners opened with a four-run first inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
“This was especially nice because even though I couldn’t always locate the ball, I was able to stay in the game and see it through,” Kikuchi said.
Kikuchi, who recorded nine of his 15 outs on ground balls, gave up a run in the first after loading the bases on two straight singles and a hit batter.
The lefty was tagged for two more runs in the third after yielding a single to Elvis Andrus and an RBI triple to Nick Solak, who came around to score on Rougned Odor’s second RBI groundout of the game.
“My high fastball wasn’t getting it done. I went with sliders and changeups at the right moments and added up the outs with grounders.”
Brewers 4, Cubs 0
In Chicago, Christian Yelich hit a three-run homer off Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning, and Milwaukee shut out the Cubs for the second straight game.
The Brewers took two of three in the weekend series to pull within three games of Chicago for the second NL wild card.
Yu Darvish missed his scheduled start for the Cubs due to tightness in his right forearm.
The team does not intend to place Darvish on the injured list, and he is expected to take the mound against the Brewers in Milwaukee on Saturday should he recover.
Darvish is 5-6 with a 4.25 ERA over 27 games this season.
Phillies 5, Mets 2
In Philadelphia, Scott Kingery snapped an eighth-inning tie with a three-run double and the Phillies beat New York to avoid a three-game sweep.
Brad Miller hit a solo homer and a double for the Phillies, who pulled within 2½ games of the Chicago Cubs for the second NL wild card.
Nationals 9, Marlins 3
In Washington, Ryan Zimmerman celebrated his return from the injured list with one of the Nationals’ four home runs and Washington completed a series sweep of Miami.
Zimmerman, who was reinstated Sunday after missing 36 games with Plantar Fasciitis in his right foot, connected for a two-run shot. Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon each homered for the second consecutive game for the Nationals, while Yan Gomes also had a home run.
Rendon set a new Nationals (2005-present) single-season record for RBIs with 111. Vladimir Guerrero holds the franchise record of 131 set in 1999 when the team was in Montreal.
Washington, the NL wild card leader, has won four straight and nine of 10.
Yankees 5, Athletics 4
In New York, Brett Gardner and pinch hitter Mike Ford hit back-to-back homers off Oakland closer Liam Hendriks, and the Yankees rallied from four runs down and walked off for the second straight game.
Gardner led off the ninth with a shot to right off Hendriks (4-2) and Ford followed with his 10th homer into the New York bullpen in right-center.
A’s left-hander Sean Manaea pitched one-hit ball over five innings in his first start since shoulder surgery last September, and Oakland led 4-0 after 7 ½ innings.
Twins 8, Tigers 3
In Detroit, Jake Cave and Nelson Cruz each drove in two runs for Minnesota.
The Twins increased their lead in the AL Central to 5 ½ games over Cleveland.
The Tigers have lost seven of eight and still need four wins at Comerica Park to avoid becoming the first big league team to lose 60 games at home in a season.
Red Sox 4, Angels 3
Rays 8, Indians 2
Royals 6, Orioles 4
Cardinals 4, Reds 3 (1st)
Reds 5, Cardinals 3 (2nd)
Pirates 6, Rockies 2
Padres 8, Giants 4
Dodgers 4, Diamondbacks 3 (11)
Braves 5, White Sox 3
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5