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This is the award he badly craved, making no secret of how satisfying it would be, and honestly – how much he truly believed he deserved it.
It took eight years to win his second American League Cy Young Award, but this one was the sweetest for Justin Verlander, earning the honor when most pitchers his age are retired or washed up.
Verlander, 36, became the oldest pitcher to win the Cy Young award since 42-year-old Roger Clemens in 2004.
“It would mean a lot to me,’’ Verlander told USA TODAY Sports in September. “Not just because of my age, but having gone through being at the top of my game, to going down and being hurt, and having people count me out, to getting back to where I am now.
“It gives me some perspective. I am enjoying it more. Not just the age, but having gone through at being atop of my game to going down and being hurt, and having people count me out, to all of the hard work to getting back to where I am now.
“All of that does allow me to appreciate the success a little bit.’’
And, yes, there is the revenge factor. He believes he should have won the award last year, too, instead of Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay. He thought he was robbed three years ago when Boston Red Sox starter Rick Porcello won the Cy Young award when he finished second, prompting future wife’s Kate Upton’s famous Twitter comment.
“A couple of those years hurt a lot,’’ Verlander says.
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In 2019, Verlander won 20 games for the second time in his career.
In 2019, Verlander won 20 games for the second time in his career. (Photo: Kevin Sousa, USA TODAY Sports)
Verlander, 21-6, 2.48 ERA, and Cole, 20-5, 2.50 ERA, became the first teammates to finish first and second in the Cy Young race since Hall of Famer Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2002 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Verlander and Cole also joined Johnson and Schilling as the only teammates to reach 300 strikeouts in the same season.
Verlander received 17 of 30 first-place votes, with the other 13 going to Cole.
And their former Astros teammate, Charlie Morton, finishing third, pitching his first season with the Tampa Bay Rays.
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Verlander, who had three Cy Young runner-up finishes since winning the Cy Young and AL MVP awards in 2011 with the Detroit Tigers, led the AL in victories, opponents’ batting average (.172), innings pitched (223), and WHIP (0.80). He also became the oldest pitcher since Johnson in 2004 to throw a no-hitter, the third of his career on Sept. 1, against the Toronto Blue Jays. Only Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan (7) and Sandy Koufax (4) have more no-hitters.
An old-school pitcher, Verlander is an outlier in today’s game. When you ask him what statistics he loves, it’s still victories. It’s still earned-run average. It’s still innings.
“I think wins are important,’’ Verlander says. “You ask any starting pitcher. You go out there and pitch seven innings, give up three runs and lose, you don’t feel as good as you do when you give up three runs in seven innings and win. As much as people want to shy away from the wins and losses, it definitely means something to us.
“I started to amass a good number of them. It comes with being healthy, throwing 200 innings, being out there for your team, covering the extra innings your bullpens doesn’t have to. When you do that, that’s how you get those extra wins.
“That’s how you get 13 to 15 wins instead of 10. That’s how you get 17 to 20 wins instead of 13 to 15. Those extra innings, those matter.’’
Verlander, who has pitched at least 200 innings in all but one season since his rookie year, also takes tremendous pride in the amount of innings he pitches each year. He has lead the major leagues four times, including this season.
“You can’t put a number on it because people can’t quantify how valuable it is,’’ Verlander says. “Just saving the bullpen, the impact those extra innings have, and what that means.”
If you want to go slightly more advanced, Verlander says, he loves WHIP. He had the third-lowest lowest WHIP by a starting pitcher since 1900, trailing only Pedro Martinez in 2000 (0.74) and Walter Johnson (0.77) in 1913.
“I think WAR is a pretty fickle number for starting pitchers, but the WHIP, that’s our job, to limit baserunners,’’ Verlander says. “The batting average against is a nice stat, but if you’re walking three or four batters per nine innings, the way batters now count a hit as good as a walk for OPS, those walks might as well be hits.’’
This season was just another page in his Hall of Fame résumé, becoming only the 18th pitcher in to reach 3,000 strikeouts. He reached that milestone in the fifth-quickest amount of games ever.
And isn’t it ironic that in the year Verlander was the most outspoken pitcher about baseballs being juiced this season – giving up nearly twice as many home runs (36) than during his last Cy Young season (19) – he still was the best in the American League.
Verlander would love to topple one more barrier before he retires, proving, yes, that it really is possible for a pitcher to still win 300 games.
He has 225 victories, and would have to pitch until he’s at least 40 to accomplish the feat, but it’s on his bucket list.
“People can say whatever they want,’’ Verlander says, “but I’m just going to keep my head down and keep pitching. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes. I do a lot more work now than I ever did before. It’s not just in the gym sweating my ass off, it’s the maintenance, knowing my body, and always kind of adapting and changing.
“I don’t know if I can do it or not, but I’m sure the hell going to try.’’