SEATTLE — You wondered what it would look like. Just how dominant could he be, with that arsenal, with that freakish movement and velocity, if he could just harness it and command it.
It might just look like this.
Spencer Turnbull, in his 50th big-league start, pitched the eighth no-hitter in Tigers history in a 5-0 win over the Seattle Mariners late Tuesday night at T-Mobile Park.
“This is the greatest achievement in my life so far, at least in my baseball career,” Turnbull said. “Definitely the most exciting. It’s a landmark stamp on my career to this point. I don’t know how to think of it in historical terms. But personally, I’m just happy to have my name written on something that can never be taken away.”
The 28-year-old Turnbull, in his third full season, is the first Tigers pitcher to throw a no-hitter since Justin Verlander’s second career no-hitter on May 7, 2011. The only blemish on the night, a pair of walks.
Hard to imagine, watching Turnbull’s performance Tuesday, that he lost 17 games just two seasons ago. For three years, coaches and opposing hitters have raved about his stuff. But they also wondered about his temperament, and fretted over his inability to command his lively pitches.
“There’s been a lot of challenges and hurdles I’ve had to overcome to get here,” he said. “I’ve had to have a lot of patience with things. But I wouldn’t change any step of the journey.”
Finally, despite getting a three-week late start due to COVID-19, all the pieces seem to be fitting in place.
“I’ve come such a long way and I am nowhere near being done growing,” Turnbull said. “I don’t know if I’ve arrived or not, but I definitely feel I belong here.”
He ended the night on Tuesdat with a three-pitch punch-out of Mitch Haniger, who had hit two of the hardest balls against Turnbull all night, finishing him off with a 95-mph fastball with his career-high 117th pitch.
“He had hit me hard twice already and I was like, ‘All right, let’s see if you can do it a third time,’” Turnbull said. “I gave him probably three of the best pitches I made all night and the celebration was on.”
He was mobbed on the diamond and afterward. Still on the field conducting a series of interviews, he was hit in the face with a shaving cream pie by Jake Rogers, then thoroughly doused in beer by what seemed to be the entire pitching staff.
“Just really special,” said Turnbull, who shared the post-game celebration with his girlfriend. “I was thankful she was there. It was just a dream come true. Probably the best day of my life.”
Turnbull’s command of his four-seam fastball was the catalyst for everything. He threw 50 of them and got 12 swings-and-misses and five called strikes. He was manipulating the pitch to either cut or ride through the zone, whatever the situation called for.
As the game wore on, he started mixing in his slider, as well as seven change-ups and six curveballs. He wound up striking out eight and getting 12 ground ball outs.
“Just special,” said catcher Eric Haase, who became the first rookie catcher in Tigers’ history to catch a no-hitter. “It didn’t really feel super tense. From pitch one he was executing the game plan. He looked so sharp tonight.”
The game plan, as it was for his previous start against Royals, was to establish the fastball and then unleash the slider the second and third time through the order.
“Everything was working for him,” Haase said. “He was getting to the top of the zone. He was sinking it when he had to. And his spin, just like his last start, his spin the second and third time through the order really shined.
“Any time we can hide a weapon like that until the second and third time through, you see how it played out. They were off-balance all night.”
Turnbull said for most of the night, he was able to keep his focus narrow, hitter to hitter, and not let magnitude of what he was doing overwhelm him.
“The whole night I was just, I’m not going to be afraid to make any pitches,” Turnbull said. “I’m not going to second-guess or doubt or have any fear about anything. I am just going to attack and stay in that mindset. If they hit one, they hit one. I just wanted to stay aggressive and I didn’t want to beat myself. I wanted them to beat me.”
He got some defensive help, too.
Third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who homered and knocked in two runs, made a sterling defensive play in the seventh inning. Haniger, who in his career before Tuesday had reached base in all 12 games he’s played against the Tigers, hit a shot just to the right of Candelario toward the third-base line.
The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 108.4 mph. Statcast estimated a .660 hit probability. But Candelario made a quick sliding move to his right, backhanded a high hop and threw Haniger out at first.
“That ball was hit so hard, I didn’t have time to think,” Turnbull said. “It was hit and already in Candy’s glove. Once that happened, I was like, ‘All right, I think this is my night. Hopefully I can keep going and finish it.”
Haniger had flown out to the wall in center in the fourth. Kyle Seager also made a bid, hit a liner to right that Nomar Mazara ran down.
“He adjusted as the night went on and just kept pounding the strike zone pretty relentlessly,” Detroit Manager AJ Hinch said. “He got stronger as the game got on. He got some quick innings in the middle which was important.
“We could all feel it, especially after Candy’s back-handed play. Now it was like, we’ve entered the ‘don’t talk about it’ phase of the no-hitter and we started counting outs.”
With Turnbull’s effort, there have been five no-hitters thrown through May 18 match the 1917 season for the most in baseball history by that date. Two of the five were thrown against Seattle at T-Mobile Park, and the Mariners are the first team since the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015 to get no-hit twice in a month. The major league record for no-hitters in a season since 1900 is seven, which has happened several times.