DETROIT -- Struggling for hits all season, even under ordinary circumstances, the Pirates were no match for the extraordinary on Friday night.
Detroit marvel Justin Verlander showed the Bucs no clemency by coming within two outs of his third career no-hitter.
Josh Harrison sent a gentle line drive up the middle with one out in the ninth for the only hit in Verlander's 6-0 showcase in Comerica Park. Three innings earlier, Harrison had come closest to a hit, with center fielder Don Kelly robbing him of possible extra bases with a running, back-handed grab.
"He pitched a great game, but I still felt I saw him well the whole night," said Harrison. "Except for the first two pitches in the ninth."
Both were nasty breaking pitches that bounced into catcher Alex Avila's mitt -- after Harrison had swung at them.
"I was too amped up. I was ready for the fastball, and I swung at the first two without really seeing them," Harrison said. "So I tried to slow everything down."
"It was off the plate, but the first two he swung at were down in the dirt and this one was off where he was able to just kind of stick his bat out there and hit it up the middle," Verlander said of the fateful pitch, another breaking ball that stayed up. "That's why throwing no-hitters is so difficult. It doesn't take a hard one, it just takes the right placement."
Harrison was most successful in slowing down Verlander's rush into immortality. Instead of getting closer to Nolan Ryan's seven no-hitters, Verlander got closer to the nearly two dozen one-hitters The Express also posted.
"There's a lot of guys that came close. Nolan Ryan had 20-something of them, one-hitters," Verlander said. "But I did what I needed to do tonight. We needed to win this one and get off on the right foot, so hopefully this starts us rolling."
There was no shortage of kudos, especially from Michigan native Clint Hurdle.
"I've wanted to be a part of Tigers history since I was a little kid, and I almost was," the Pirates manager said. "For my money, it was a thing of beauty to watch. That's a master craftsman with a power tool. He can take you places you don't want to go."
Verlander struck out 12 in his brilliant kickoff to Interleague Play in front of a sellout crowd of 41,661. His only three-time victim was the left-handed Garrett Jones, who was left dazed, confused and impressed.
"He was keeping the ball in the corners. Nothing over the heart of the plate," Jones said. "High strike, low strike ... with every pitch. His curve was working. He was nasty. He was on."
Verlander was trying to twirl the first no-no against the Pirates in nearly 41 years. Bob Gibson hurled the last gem on Aug. 14, 1971, in Three Rivers Stadium.
The game's great appeal is the promise, any day, of seeing something unexpected. But some days, the expected -- even the inevitable -- happens.
Friday night was nearly that: A pitcher with regular no-hit stuff and a splendid Interleague track record coming across an NL team in the throes of an extended team batting slump.
The bottom two-thirds of the Pittsburgh lineup was a gauntlet of these pregame batting averages: .216, .238, .202, .167, .162 and .195.
Hurdle admitted beginning to consider the possibility of a no-hitter "probably about the fifth inning."
"He's always good," Hurdle said. "In the sixth, he ratcheted it up. He has a history of doing it, and I've seen him do it. It was almost like he started sniffing it and went to that other gear in the seventh. Good stuff, top shelf."
"We only squared up three, four balls the entire night, and [Harrison] had two of the good at-bats," Hurdle noted.
This was a meeting between a team generally considered the Majors' best 18-20 club coming in (Detroit) and the worst (Pittsburgh). Their similarities did end at the won-lost records, at least on this night.
Given his foe, Charlie Morton's start was an immediate letdown. The Tigers jumped him for a pair of quick runs in the first, on consecutive one-out RBI doubles by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
"That first is what was most frustrating," Morton said after his first confrontation with the Tigers. "New team, never been here before ... I've got to be aggressive and go after guys, and I didn't feel like I was."
Interestingly, in that first inning, Morton was hitting 93 on the radar to Verlander's 92. Of course, Morton was also touching his ceiling whereas Verlander ...
"... at 70-80 pitches is throwing 97, 98, 99," said Morton, finishing the thought. "That's just a freak of nature. I'm sure he's heard that many times."
Detroit doubled that score in the fourth, which Delmon Young began with his second homer before three singles, the last by Kelly, made it 4-0.
With everyone's attention focused on the top of innings, the Tigers padded their lead with Young's two-run double in the seventh off Chris Resop.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.