Detroit Tigers Newsletter: Welcome to Spencer Turnbull’s ‘Vander Meer Moment’

Detroit Free Press

John Samuel Vander Meer was born in 1914 in Prospect Park, New Jersey and died in 1997 in Tampa, Florida. In between, the left-hander appeared in 346 major-league games, going 119-121 with a 3.44 ERA and 1,294 strikeouts over 2,104 2/3 innings with the Reds, Cubs and Cleveland.

You might have noted, that list does not include the Tigers; in fact, his only tie to the Tigers is a scoreless three-inning appearance in Game 5 of the 1940 World Series for Cincinnati against Detroit. He didn’t get a decision, nor did the Reds win that game —though they did win the Series in seven games, so … good for them.

So why is ol’ John Samuel — you might know him as Johnny — leading off this here Detroit Tigers Newsletter? (Hello and welcome, by the way!)

That would be because of what “The Dutch Master” (which would be a very different nickname these days) did in the 31st and 32nd appearances of his big-league career, in the second year of a 13-season career: On June 11 and 15, against the Braves (then called the Bees) and the Dodgers, Vander Meer pitched back-to-back no-hitters. (The 106th and 107th in big-league history, in case you were wondering.)

Nearly 200 major-league pitchers (191, actually) have gone the distance with a no-hitter since then; none have done it again in their next start.

Which brings us to the Tigers’ own Spencer Ketcham Turnbull, who you may remember from such starts as last Tuesday’s no-hitter on the road against the Seattle Mariners. (Don’t remember it, or just want to remember it again? We recommend clicking here for the recap from the Freep’s Dana Gauruder.)

Turnbull takes the mound tonight for the Tigers against Cleveland in the opener of a four-game series at Comerica Park, giving him his own “Vander Meer Moment” — defined both as the start when a pitcher goes for his second consecutive no-hitter, and the moment when said shot at back-to-back no-nos ends and you wonder, “How the heck did John Samuel Vander Meer do it?”

For reference’s sake, we looked at the past 10 pitchers to throw solo nine-inning no-nos (sorry, MadBum) and how they fared in their next start:

2018: Sean Manaea — ­Gave up his first hit with one out in the third and finished with four hits allowed over seven innings.

2018: James Paxton — Gave up his first hit to open the third inning (in Detroit) and finished with six hits allowed over six innings.

2019: Mike Fiers — Gave up his first hit (a home run, no less) to the first batter and finished with two hits allowed over five innings.

2019: Justin Verlander — Gave up his first hit to open the third inning and finished with four hits allowed over seven innings.

2020: Lucas Giolito — Gave up his first hit to the second batter (after a walk) in the second inning and finished with four hits allowed over five innings.

2020: Alec Mills — Gave up his first hit with two outs in the first and finished with six hits allowed over six innings.

2021: Joe Musgrove — Gave up his first hit with two outs in the first and finished with four hits allowed over four innings.

2021: Carlos Rodon — Gave up his first hit to open the third inning and finished with three hits allowed over five innings.

2021: John Means — Gave up his first hit to the first batter (but only a single) and finished with six hits allowed over six innings.

2021: Wade Miley — Gave up his first hit to the first batter (a triple!) and finished with 11 hits allowed over three innings. (Ouch.)

To sum up, the past 10 no-no throwers all gave up a hit before the fourth inning in their next start, averaged five hits allowed and five innings pitched. Not exactly heartening for Turnbull’s chances, we suppose.

Then again, who was expecting Turnbull to throw a no-hitter in the first place? Actually, there were at least two Tigers who saw it coming, since you/we ask. The Freep’s Evan Petzold caught up with ex-Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson to find out how they knew the guy with “unbelievable stuff” could put it all together.

Motown’s greatest (no-)hits

Turnbull’s gem was the eighth no-no in Tigers franchise history, by the sixth different pitcher, from George Mullin in 1912 to Justin Verlander in 2011. (And, yes, we’re not allowed to count Armando Galarraga in 2010.) Click here to check out how they all fared in the follow-ups to their no-hitters, and which one faced “a schooner of suds in the throne room.”

‘Candy’-man can

So how did Turnbull do it? It all came down to a lot of skill, a little luck and, as the Freep’s Jeff Seidel opined here, a perfect dose of analytics to get Jeimer Candelario in precisely the right spot.

‘Unbelieva-BULL’

All kidding aside, throwing a no-hitter is a life-changing event for a pitcher, and not just because they’ll always have a link on Wikipedia. Our Man Petzold dove into what’s next for Turnbull’s career, and how this no-hitter is different from his near-miss while pitching at the University of Alabama.

‘Turn’ the page

Of course, as we noted earlier, today is Turnbull’s chance to show off the most important part of an ace’s repertoire: Consistency. Our Man Petzold broke down here what he’ll be working on tonight against Cleveland. Oh, and if there was ever a team to face with no-hit stuff, it’s this one: Cleveland was the opponent for Rodon’s and Wiley’s no-hitters this season and is hitting just .223 in the games it HASN’T been no-hit in.

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Haase power

Hey, what about the guy on the other side of the no-hitter, catcher-turned-leftfielder-turned-catcher Eric Haase. The Dearborn Divine Child alum had a wild week, too, starting with a two-homer game in Seattle on Monday. Our Man Petzold ran through everything that went right to get Haase behind the plate for Turnbull’s gem.

Meghan thee stallion

Tuesday’s no-hitter wasn’t the only one for a Michigander in Seattle, in case you missed it — start scrolling, Spartans — Michigan’s Meghan Beaubien, a Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central alum, no-hit Seattle University (alma mater of the Tigers’ Tarik Skubal) on Friday night in Husky Softball Stadium, about 6.5 miles from the Mariners’ T-Mobile Park. Click here to relive her third no-hitter of the year. (Stop scrolling, Spartans.) Unfortunately, she and the rest of the Wolverines weren’t as successful the rest of the weekend, as they were eliminated from the NCAA tournament on Sunday by Washington.

Ful Metal Jacket

At the other end of the spectrum, we have quasi-closer Michael Fulmer, who also had a pretty rough Sunday, allowing two hits without getting an out as the Royals walked-off the Tigers in Kansas City. Still, as Our Man Petzold notes here, Fulmer is bringing the heat thanks to some extra adrenaline in his system.

6 to watch

We didn’t forget the rest of the Tigers this week, honest:

HAROLD CASTRO: ‘Would be more appreciated in a different era,’ AJ Hinch sez

MIGUEL CABRERA: Up to 2,889 hits and 491 homers on the Milestone Watch

BUCK FARMER: He’s still fighting for a return from Toledo

NIKO GOODRUM: From Gold Glove at shortstop to ‘Good Grief!’

CASEY MIZE: May has been his month (surprise!) even though the Tigers didn’t help him Sunday

VICTOR REYES: An 11-game hitting streak in Triple-A earned him another big-league stint

Happy (belated) birthday, Prince Hal

One Tigers legend who never threw a no-hitter: Hal Newhouser, who would have turned 100 last Thursday. (He died in 1998, the year after the Tigers retired his No. 16.) Even without that checkmark on his resume, “Prince Hal” was a fearsome sight on the mound for the Tigers during the 1940s. Click here to relive his six greatest games.

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Brad Penny (43 on Monday, though it may stretch into Tuesday), Darrell Evans (74 on Wednesday), Jhonny Peralta (39 on Friday), Kirk Gibson (64 on Friday), Zack Short (26 on Saturday).

Mark your calendar

It’s a full week for the Tigers, starting with a four-game series against Cleveland from Monday-Thursday, followed by a three-game visit by the Yankees on Friday-Sunday. (That includes the second post-no-no start by Corey Kluber, who gets his own “Vander Meer Moment” on Tuesday against the Blue Jays in New York before taking the mound in Detroit on Sunday — we think.)

But the more important date to note is June 8 (two weeks from Tuesday): That’s when Comerica Park is slated to return to full capacity, Our Man Petzold reports. And the next day — Wednesday, June 9 — Our Man Turnbull is slated to face the same M’s he shut down last week. Just saying.

TL;DR

The pitcher to come closest to back-to-back no-nos? Cincinnati’s Ewell Blackwell, who followed his June 18, 1947, no-no against the Braves with 8⅓ innings of no-hit ball on June 22 against the Dodgers, finishing with a two-hitter.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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