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Hardball Physics 

Breaking down Justin Verlander's fastball.

click to enlarge news_verlander_100.jpg

During Justin Verlander's no-hitter on June 12 against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Detroit Tigers ace and Goochland County native hit 102 mph on the radar gun. The great Nolan Ryan was once believed to have thrown the fastest fastball at 100.7 mph. Not only was Verlander's blur 102, but it was clocked in the ninth inning. Pitchers aren't supposed to increase velocity as the innings pass. It defies physics.

And speaking of science, how fast exactly is 102 mph traveling 60 feet, 6 inches?

Some quick math: John Speich, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University, explains that at 102 mph the ball travels 149.6 feet per second. That means it takes 0.4 seconds to reach the plate. A quick Internet search reveals that the average eye blink occurs in 300-400 milliseconds, or 0.4 seconds.

So blink and you'll miss Verlander's fastball. Blink three times and you're walking back to the dugout.

Bob Smith, founder of the Richmond Baseball Academy, says he was at the academy's facility in Mechanicsville when a friend called him.

"He wouldn't say what was happening," recalls Smith, who helped a 13-year-old Verlander' hone pitching mechanics. "He didn't want to jinx it. He told me to go home and turn on ESPN."

Smith caught the last inning, and it didn't surprise him that Verlander was able to finish off the no-hitter, something Boston Red Sox pitcher and future Hall-of-Famer Curt Schilling couldn't do a few days before. Schilling was one out from his own no-no in the ninth inning before he gave up a base hit.

"When Justin was 14, he wanted to throw it 80 miles per hour," Smith remembers. "He could never do it. He kept hitting 79 on the radar gun. So one day, we told him that we had seen better arms on a chair. His next pitch was 84. Justin is like that. If you challenge him, he's going to bear down. That's exactly what you saw in the last inning."

Bryan Gordon, athletic director and dean of students at Goochland High, was playing solitaire on the computer and watching his former pupil on television.

"After three innings, I noticed he had great command of his curveball and change," said Gordon, who coached Verlander as a prep. "That's the key for him."

Verlander had such impeccable command that he threw his no-hitter on 112 pitches that included 12 strikeouts. For a power pitcher, the low pitch count is unheard of.

That stat popped out at Rob Grimes as he read the story the next day. Grimes, 37, plays shortstop for the Indians of the Virginia Baseball Congress, a 11-team league for adults 28 and older. In seven years, Grimes has established himself as perhaps the league's best hitter. He has a lifetime average of .500 and hit 15 homers two seasons ago.

"It's the sound," Grimes says. "The fastest pitcher in our league throws 85. You can hear that. I can't imagine what 102 sounds like."

Grimes also can't imagine facing the 6-foot-5 Verlander and his fastball.

"I played at VCU, and we faced a couple of guys [Wayne Gomes and Paul Shuey] who went on to play in the majors," says Grimes, who finished his collegiate career in 1992. "They threw it 95 mph. But 102 is another level of fear."

The big righty called his June 12 no-hitter "the best thing that ever happened to me."

It just might be the best thing to happen to baseball this season. Yes, to many in Richmond and across the country, Verlander's no-hitter will trump Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron's all-time home-run record.

Why?

It was just baseball. No steroids. No federal investigation. No mixed emotions. Verlander is as real as his 102-mph fastball coming into the hands of a right-handed batter. He was grown right here in Goochland County, all 6 feet, 5 inches of him.

Don't blink. S

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