Paul Hagen | Verlander ump nearly had 2 in row

Posted: June 15, 2007

WHEN Curt Schilling came within one out of pitching a no-hitter against Oakland last week - Shannon Stewart broke it up with single in the bottom of the ninth - the home-plate umpire was Ron Kulpa.

"I told my crewmates and my dad that I didn't know if I'd ever come that close again to working a no-hitter," he said.

The next time Kulpa was behind the plate was Tuesday night. At Detroit. When Justin Verlander, facing the Brewers, threw the second no-hitter in the major leagues this season.

That's the thing about baseball. You just never know what's going to happen.

Only one pitcher in history has pitched back-to-back no-nos. That, of course, was Johnny Vander Meer for the Cincinnati Reds in 1938.

A lot of people will be paying attention to see if Verlander can do it in his next start, which just happens to be against the Phillies on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

There were a couple of other interesting sidelights to Verlander's big game.

As exciting as the accomplishment was, it wasn't the first no-hitter the family had to celebrate this year. His kid brother, Ben, threw one for the Goochland (Va.) High School junior varsity earlier this season.

"It's about time," Ben kidded Justin when they talked on the phone later Tuesday.

Also, the Brewers had 22 hits against the Rangers in Texas on Sunday and were off Monday. They have the dubious distinction of having the most hits ever in the game before getting no hits of any team in history.

Verlander is just 24 years old. Tigers catcher Pudge Rodriguez says he has the stuff to be the best pitcher in the game.

Still, the odds are strongly against him pitching consecutive no-hitters. But you never know. Just ask Ron Kulpa.

The hot corner

-- Another chapter could be added to the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. There are reports that the Boston front office could be considering filing tampering charges after pitcher Runelvys Hernandez opted out of his contract with Triple A Pawtucket and then signed with the Yankees organization. Allegedly, Hernandez told people he had offers from several teams, including the Yanks, while still under contract.

-- The Reds have begun playing Triple A Louisville first baseman Joey Votto in leftfield, which could be a sign that Adam Dunn will be traded.

-- The Red Sox have until Monday to move reliever J.C. Romero, who has been designated for assignment. Several National League teams are said to be interested, but it doesn't appear the Phillies are among them.

Around the bases

-- To help celebrate the 20th anniversary of their 1987 world championship, the Twins are selling a set of bobbleheads featuring each player on the World Series team. Joe Niekro's figurine will have a nail file in the back pocket, Juan Berenguer's will be wearing a trench coat and fedora.

-- Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has asked Major League Baseball to consider sending his team to China or Japan to open the season next year.

-- It will be interesting to see how well Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka pitches against the Giants tonight. He threw a side session for his former Seibu Lions manager Osamu Higashio on Tuesday and Higashio reportedly corrected a few mechanical flaws he noticed in Dice-K's delivery.

-- Kevin Millwood pitched a no-hitter for the Phillies and in 2005 led the American League in ERA for Cleveland. This year, he's 2-6, 7.82 for the Rangers. "I don't know what's going on. I'm kind of lost ... I haven't seen anything even close to this before," he lamented.

On deck

CHEERS: For Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman. He was one of the biggest busts in baseball after signing a 4-year, $16.8 million free-agent contract when he batted .219 in 2005 and missed all last season following shoulder surgery.

Now he's showing why he got that money in the first place. Going into last night, Guzman was batting .328 and has replaced Felipe Lopez as Washington's leadoff hitter.

JEERS: For the Kansas City Royals. Not many people remember, but 10 years ago the Royals were offered the chance to move to the National League as baseball prepared to launch expansion teams in Arizona and Tampa Bay.

It seemed like a smart move, but the team was for sale and being run by a board of directors, which turned it down. Milwaukee jumped at the chance. A decade later, the NL Central is the weakest division in baseball. And the Royals are buried in the AL Central, which might just be the strongest. "I wish we would have moved," former star second baseman Frank White told the Kansas City Star.

Too late now.

By the numbers

1: Number of players on the All-Star ballot (Corey Patterson) who started their pro career with the Cubs. The Blue Jays have 15 and the Braves have 14.

11: Position players with contracts worth more than $100 million: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, Todd Helton, Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, Carlos Beltran, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols and Carlos Lee.

25: Errors for the left side of the Marlins' infield, 13 by shortstop Hanley Ramirez and 12 by third baseman Miguel Cabrera.

27: Games in which the Rangers have trailed by at least five runs at some point.

38: Giants games decided by one or two runs, most in the majors.

Up next

San Francisco travels to Fenway Park to play the Red Sox in an interleague series beginning tonight. It's the first time the Giants, who were then the New York Giants, have been at Fenway since playing a few games there against the Boston Braves in 1915.

Weeklings

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Mariners centerfielder Ichiro, on playing in front of Wrigley Field's Bleacher Bums: "Before the game started, the fans were nice and polite. But after the game started and they started drinking beer, lots of beer, their personality changed."

INJURY OF THE WEEK: Diamondbacks lefthander Doug Slaten was struck on the right forearm by a line drive during batting practice at Yankee Stadium Tuesday night and was unavailable to pitch that night. Slaten saw the ball coming and threw up his arms to protect his head.

"I'd rather it have hit me in the head," he grumbled. "It would have given me a knot, but I would have been able to pitch. This stinks."

HELPFUL HINT OF THE WEEK: Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was 1-4, 7.97 in his last five starts before working on his grip Sunday with Diamondbacks broadcaster Tom Candiotti. Candiotti threw a knuckler during a 16-year career during which he won 151 games and said he noticed that Wakefield was holding the ball too far to the outside.

In his next start, Tuesday against the Rockies, Wakefield allowed one run on four hits in eight innings.

TRADE OF THE WEEK: The Marlins got Kevin Gregg from the Angels last November for Chris Resop in a swap of righthanded relievers.

Gregg has converted 10 straight save opportunities for Florida. Resop is 1-3 with a 5.86 earned run average - and no saves - for the Triple A Salt Lake Bees.

Finally

Phillies fans may have been getting vertigo from watching the ups-and-downs of this season. If it's any consolation, they're not alone.

The Yankees were 21-29. They couldn't hit, their pitching was a mess and their best player became gossip-column fodder when photographed walking into a Toronto hotel with a blonde who wasn't his wife. They've since won nine straight and 12 out of 14.

The Mets were running away with the National League East when June started. Now they've lost nine out of 10 to see their lead chopped to two games going into last night.

The Brewers got off to a 24-10 start ... then went 10-20.

And how about this: From Opening Day 2005 to July 7, 2006, the White Sox were 166-93, including a near-sweep of the '05 postseason. They're 61-78 since.

All together, one more time: That's baseball.

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