Verlander takes AL Cy in unanimous vote
Dominant Tigers ace won pitching Triple Crown, threw no-hitter
DETROIT -- The debate over MVP can wait. Justin Verlander wants to enjoy his American League Cy Young Award for a little while.
It might be the first time Verlander has allowed himself to rest on his accomplishments. But with a unanimous vote, it's no small feat. He merely made it look easy.
The result was inevitable once Verlander captured the league's pitching Triple Crown. Tuesday was the coronation, making Verlander the Tigers' first Cy Young winner since Guillermo Hernandez in 1984, and the first Tigers starting pitcher to win it since Denny McLain won back-to-back honors in 1968-69.
"I've worked extremely hard for this," Verlander said. "You guys know how competitive I am. Looking at the big picture of things, it'd be nice to win some more. But for right now, I've got to be excited about where I'm at. [It's been] a lot of hard work, a lot of preparation, and I couldn't be more excited. I don't want to look too far to the future right now. I just want to enjoy this with my family and friends."
Verlander received every one of the 28 first-place votes cast by two members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America in each AL city -- good for 196 points. The Angels' Jered Weaver received 17 second-place votes and was second in the voting with 97 points, followed by James Shields of the Rays with 66 and CC Sabathia of the Yankees with 63.
Verlander's Detroit teammate, closer Jose Valverde, finished fifth with 28 points, including three third-place votes and one for second place.
"[The unanimous selection] means a lot," Verlander said. "Obviously there haven't been too many people that have gotten a unanimous decision, the last one being Johan [Santana in 2006]. ... I remember when I was a rookie and watching him pitch and being like, 'Oh my gosh, that is a big league pitcher. That's a stud.' To be here, five years later and be in this situation, it's kind of a full-circle moment for me. It's very exciting for me personally."
Both Hernandez and McLain paired up a Cy Young with an MVP Award. Verlander will find out if he has done the same when AL MVP results are announced next Tuesday. That announcement should have a lot more suspense than this one did. It won't have the same meaning as this one, though.
"Do I think [winning the MVP is] possible? Yes," Verlander said. "Would I like to win it? Of course. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I was going to be a shoo-in for the Cy Young, I would have been absolutely ecstatic and amazed and all these adjectives. I never even could have thought about the MVP until it came into the picture."But you know what, I've got the Cy Young now and it's an amazing experience. ... I'm not going to let the MVP influence my decisions or make me think any less of this accomplishment because it's something that I've worked for and always dreamed of."
Nolan Ryan, the pitcher he grew up idolizing, never won one. Neither did Jack Morris, the former Tigers pitcher to whom Verlander is most often compared, and the current Twins broadcaster with whom Verlander forged a recent friendship.
The way Verlander pitched, and outpitched, this year, there was no other choice but him.
Unanimous Cy Young winners
|2007||Jake Peavy||San Diego|
|1988||Orel Hershiser||Los Angeles (NL)|
|1984||Rick Sutcliffe||Chicago (NL)|
|1978||Ron Guidry||New York (AL)|
|1968||Bob Gibson||St. Louis|
|1966||Sandy Koufax *||Los Angeles (NL)|
|1965||Sandy Koufax *||Los Angeles (NL)|
|1963||Sandy Koufax *||Los Angeles (NL)|
The results fell in line with history of pitchers to win the Triple Crown -- wins, earned run average and strikeouts. Verlander was the 12th to do it, and all won the Cy Young, including Sandy Koufax in back-to-back years when there was only one award encompassing both leagues. All but one of the previous Triple Crown-Cy Young winners had been unanimous, the lone exception being Roger Clemens missing a few first-place votes in 1997 while on a Blue Jays team that didn't make the playoffs.
Verlander is the 21st pitcher to win the Cy Young by unanimous selection. He is the ninth to do so in the AL, joining McLain (1988), Ron Guidry (1978), Clemens (1986, 1998), Pedro Martinez (1999, 2000) and Santana (2004, 2006).
Any question regarding a great pitcher on a non-contending team didn't exist this year. The Tigers' first postseason run since 2006 came in no small part because of Verlander, whose consistent dominance provided Detroit with a true ace and a losing-streak stopper on its way to its first division title in 24 years.
"This is one of those [that] there's no doubt about it," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Tuesday. "There's not going to be any conversation about, 'Well, this guy should have got it.' And it appears to be everybody felt that way. It's a tremendous honor when you win it like that. It was really a no-brainer."
Verlander topped all AL pitchers with 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, becoming the first American Leaguer to do that since Santana of the Twins in 2006 and the first Tigers pitcher since Hal Newhouser in 1945. No AL pitcher has won as many games in a season since Bob Welch won 27 for the 1990 powerhouse Oakland Athletics. No Major League pitcher had posted that combination of strong Triple Crown stats in the same season since Randy Johnson of the D-backs in 2002, no American Leaguer since Oakland's Vida Blue in 1971.
Verlander also led AL pitchers with 251 innings, a .192 opposing batting average and a 0.92 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) ratio.
If there was a stat for intimidation, he might have won that, too. Between his 100-mph fastball, sharp-breaking curveball, pinpoint command and his ardent belief -- almost arrogance -- that no player should be able to get a hit if a pitcher executes his pitch, he was the most formidable pitcher in the game.
"When you take that kind of stuff out there, three outstanding pitches and one average pitch, that's pretty tough," Leyland said recently.
This was the Verlander many Tigers officials, notably Leyland, believed he could be once he combined his immense talent with a smart approach to hitters. But they couldn't expect these overwhelming results.
2011 AL CY YOUNG AWARD VOTING
|Josh Beckett||Red Sox||3||3|
|Ricky Romero||Blue Jays||1||2|
His May 7 no-hitter at Toronto was the most dominant pitching performance of the season, with an 11-pitch, eighth-inning walk to J.P. Arencibia accounting for the lone baserunner."I had a different feeling in that game," Verlander recalled. "I remember in maybe the fifth or sixth inning, walking out from the clubhouse to the dugout, and I just felt very calm and relaxed. It was a different feeling for me. And I remember thinking, 'Let's try to carry this over to the rest of the season because it's working pretty good for me right now.' "That's kind of where the whole approach of starting off the game slow, not trying to do too much early, pitching to contact and then building up as the game goes on -- that's where that whole mentality came from for me." His handful of attempts at another no-no, including two bids that lasted into the eighth inning, provided the best suspense of the summer until the playoff races arrived.
He could overpower hitters one night, then finesse them to defeat five nights later. None of his no-hit bids featured the same mix of pitches.
"He works all his pitches, and he really believes in every single one of them," said Orlando Cabrera, who broke up one of those no-hit bids with an eighth-inning single for Cleveland in June. "He can throw every single pitch for a strike."
Still, for much of the summer, Verlander wasn't a clear-cut Cy Young favorite, exchanging the wins lead with Sabathia and jostling for lowest ERA with Weaver. Verlander took command of the race when he outpitched Weaver in a highly-touted matchup July 31 at Comerica Park, taking a no-hit bid through seven innings before allowing a Maicer Izturis single in the eighth. The Tigers won the game, 3-2.
"I feel like it was a statement game for our team," Verlander said. "And one reason was that there were a lot of eyes on our team. And it seemed like after that time we started playing up to our capabilities. Shortly thereafter we started to push away and separate ourselves."
That was Verlander's third win in a streak of 12 straight victories in as many starts before the Orioles roughed him up in his regular-season finale. Weaver had an opportunity to take the ERA title, but he was scratched from his final start.
"What a tremendous year he had," Verlander said of Weaver. "He's a good friend of mine and I want to say congratuations to him as well."
By then, the argument was largely over, anyway. Verlander began the year as a pitcher who gave Leyland fits at times because of the potential he had. He ended it having proven himself as the best pitcher Leyland has ever managed.
Verlander said all along he would wait until after the season to look at the numbers and admire. Now is his time. Next week could be, too, but he can wait a while longer for that.