ESCANABA - How far has Justin Verlander come in his career? The fans at the Rogers Centre in Toronto Saturday evening provided a clue.
As Verlander worked in the ninth inning with two outs, having faced the minimum batters, the whole of the stadium rose to their feet and cheered. These were Blue Jays fans giving Verlander, now a true star, the respect he has earned.
And he has certainly earned it.
Verlander became just the 30th pitcher in Major League history to throw two career no-hitters, joining that exclusive club with a spectacular game against Toronto, 20 years after Verlander's idol, Nolan Ryan did the same.
It is of course no secret that Verlander has huge respect and admiration for Ryan. What pitcher wouldn't?
Ryan who holds the Major League record with seven no-nos and 5,714 strikeouts and is one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game. Verlander fancies that mark. From day one, Verlander has sought not just to be the best in the league, but to best his hero, Ryan.
It has cost him at times as Jack Morris, the last Tiger other than Verlander to throw a no-hitter in 1984, said via a radio interview on the MLB Network earlier in the week.
"I wish I could get into his head and just slow him down because he's got the kind of stuff that he could throw one, two, three-hit ball every time he goes out there. I like to say this. 'You're never going to catch Nolan Ryan, so quit," Morris said.
Morris was describing Verlander's tendency to go for the strikeout when it isn't there. Often, it has resulted in high pitch counts for the Tigers ace, which results in Verlander getting pulled in the sixth inning. Sometimes, it results in Verlander giving up costly hits in the early innings.
Over the years it's given Tigers fans pause to consider Verlander the top pitcher in the American League.
Saturday, could it have been possible that Verlander took Morris' words to heart? Verlander's line tells the story. He threw just 108 pitches compared to the 120+ he threw against the Milwaukee Brewers in his first no-hitter in 2007.
Verlander fanned only four Saturday compared to the then career-high 12 strikeouts he had against Milwaukee.
He was every bit as dominant against Toronto as he was against the Brewers four years ago though and no one watching would dispute that.
With Verlander's 106th pitch of the game, he reached 100 mph on his fastball, a pitch that amazingly got even faster as the game went on.
So here was Verlander, one out away from his second career no-hitter and what does he do? He turns toward his infielders and gives a big smile. Now that's confidence. Confidence he didn't have as a still unsure sophomore player in 2007.
The words of Morris must have been in Verlander's head Saturday because Verlander followed the game plan the former Tigers ace suggested to him. There was no going for needless strikeouts that weren't there. There were however plenty of flyouts and groundouts, some coming on just one or two pitches.
Morris is correct, no one will ever catch Ryan, be it Verlander or anyone else currently playing the game. But that shouldn't stop Verlander from reaching a maximum potential that he has only given fans a handful of peeks at.
If Verlander can re-invent himself as a control pitcher rather than a strikeout machine that racks up the K's but wears out his arm in the process, he'll go far.
Farther than he's already gone in fact. There will almost certainly be a third no-hitter in his career if he follows Morris' words.
Thirty have thrown two career no-hitters but only five have thrown three or more. The ultra exclusive three no-hitters club should become the focal point of the remainder of Verlander's career.
That club that includes Nolan Ryan (7), Sandy Koufax (4) and Cy Young, Bob Feller and Larry Corcoran (3).
Could Verlander be added to that list? I don't think anyone of the denizens in the stands or crowded around their TV sets Saturday would doubt it.