DETROIT — In the end, the only question about the American League Cy Young Award was Justin Verlander’s margin of victory. It was unanimous.
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 in 1969.
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.
Hernandez paired up his Cy Young with a Most Valuable Player 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.
The results fell in line with history for pitchers to win the three Triple Crown categories — wins, earned-run average and strikeouts. Verlander was the 12th to do it, and all have won the Cy Young that year, 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.
Any question regarding a great pitcher on a noncontending team didn’t exist this year. The Tigers’ first postseason run since 2006 came in no small part due to 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.
Verlander topped all AL pitchers with 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, becoming the first American Leaguer to do that since Johan Santana of the Twins in 2006 and the first Tigers pitcher since Hal Newhouser in 1945. No AL pitcher won so 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,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
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.
“Obviously from a personal standpoint, it was an amazing year,” Verlander said earlier this month upon being honored as MLB Player of the Year as part of the Players Choice Awards. “I worked extremely hard for this, and I told you guys a few times, if you expect greatness, it shouldn’t surprise you. I’ve always expected myself to be able to pitch this way. It still doesn’t surprise me that I did.”
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. 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 an Erick Aybar bunt single. The Tigers won the game, 3-2.
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.
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.