If Justin Verlander ever wants to contemplate what might have been, he can contemplate this:
He's five outs away from joining this exalted list of men who have thrown at least four no-hitters:
Nolan Ryan 7
Sandy Koufax 4
And that's a wrap.
It's mind-boggling to think of how close Verlander came to hanging out in that club. A Chris Iannetta double off the left-field chalk with no outs in the ninth on Wednesday. A Josh Harrison thunker up the middle, on a lunging flail at a 1-and-2 slider, with one out in the ninth, back on May 18, 2012.
And that's all that stands between the Tigers ace and lining up the baseballs from four no-hitters on his memorabilia shelf. Wow.
But if it's any consolation, Verlander has added himself to another really cool list:
Pitchers with multiple no-hitters and multiple no-hit bids broken up in the ninth inning.
Thanks to the invaluable list of no-hitters busted up in the final inning, which you can find on milkeespress.com, we know that Verlander is only the fourth man in the expansion era who knows both the ecstasy of having thrown at least two no-nos and the agony of having lost two in the ninth. Here are the others:
• There's Ryan, who is a no-hit trivia factory unto himself. It's incomprehensible enough that he successfully made it through seven no-hitters, but he could easily have racked up a dozen, because he had five more broken up in the ninth. All five came with two outs to go, for what that's worth.
• Then there's Randy Johnson. He threw two no-hitters -- but also had ninth-inning bids foiled by Mike Gallego in 1991 and the not-very-aptly-named Lance Blankenship in 1993.
• And, finally, there's Ken Holtzman. He threw no-hitters for the Cubs in 1969 and 1971. But he sandwiched them with no-hit bids lost in the ninth in 1966 (by Dick Schofield) and 1975 (by Tom Veryzer).
Now here's a list Verlander doesn't want to shoot for -- the three pitchers in the expansion era who have lost more no-hitters in the ninth than he has:
Tom Seaver 3
Dave Stieb 3
As we learned in the latest edition of Elias Says, Verlander was the first pitcher with multiple no-hitters to see one slip away in the ninth since, well, himself, obviously. But before that, you have to go back to Aug. 10, 1989, when Ryan lost one against the Tigers on a Dave Bergman single.
So Ryan and Verlander remind us that baseball history comes in many shapes and sizes. There is elation. There is heartbreak. And sometimes, there are multiple doses of both.