Justin Verlander took the pitching Triple Crown by leading the American League in victories, earned-run average and strikeouts. Now, he has won the AL Cy Young Award.
He was the American League Rookie of the Year five years ago after helping the Tigers to their first World Series appearance since 1984 and now he is the AL’s best pitcher.
Verlander was the unanimous winner of the award, getting all 28 first-place votes. The next possible award for the AL’s top pitcher could be the Most Valuable Player, which will be announced next Monday.
“If you told me before the season that I’d be considered a lock for the Cy Young, I’d be thrilled. I’d be ecstatic,” he said on a conference call. “I would have never even thought about the MVP. But now, do I think it is possible? Yes. Would I love to win it? Of course.”
Verlander was a nearly unanimous selection when he was the Rookie of the Year, but this year his numbers were more than convincing enough to make him a recipient of every first-place vote. That made him the ninth unanimous winner in the AL, joining Johan Santana (2004, 2006), Pedro Martinez (1999, 2000), Ron Guidry (1978) and Denny McLain (1968).
Jered Weaver finished second with 97 points, James Shields was third with 66 points and CC Sabathia was fourth with 63.
The 28-year-old righty won 24 games, the most since Bob Welch won 27 games for the 1990 Athletics. Welch won the Cy Young that year, but received only 15 first-place votes because runner-up Roger Clemens was 21-6.
Verlander’s victories were five more than Sabathia, his 2.40 ERA was one one-hundredth better than the Angels’ Weaver and the 250 strikeouts were 20 more than Sabathia.
Besides winning those categories, Verlander also led the league with a 0.92 WHIP, a .192 batting average against and 251 innings pitched.
Verlander is the third Tiger to win the award. He joined Willie Hernandez, who saved 32 games for a World Championship team in 1984, and Denny McClain, who followed up his 30-win season and unanimous Cy Young award, with 24 victories to split the award with Baltimore’s Mike Cuellar.
Verlander was not dominant from the outset, finishing April at 2-3 with a 3.64 ERA. He had a season-high 3.75 ERA after a no-decision against the Yankees on May 2, but five days later Verlander pitched his second career no-hitter, allowing one runner in Toronto and missing a perfect game by allowing a full-count walk in the eighth inning.
“I think Justin has pretty much taken it step by step,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said during the ALDS. “He had the big year in 2006. Then he went through a little bit of a humbling period.
“He’s made adjustments mentally; he’s made some adjustments physically, obviously. He’s figured some things out that you don’t have to throw it 100 miles per hour every pitch. You can pitch to contact a little bit more at times and save it for when you do need a strikeout. He’s matured a lot.”
That was the first of nine consecutive victories, a streak that ended with a 1-0 loss in Anaheim to Dan Haren. After splitting his next two starts, Verlander finished with a 12-game winning streak.
That streak began July 21 when the Tigers were 52-46 and over the remainder of the regular season Detroit won 43 of its final 64 games. During that streak, Verlander allowed three runs or fewer seven times, pitched into the eighth inning six times and set a Tigers record by winning 12 consecutive starts.
Rounding out the voting was Detroit closer Jose Valverde, whose 50 saves garnered 28 points. Free agent C.J. Wilson (nine points), Haren (seven points), Yankee closer Mariano Rivera (four points), Boston’s Josh Beckett (three points), Toronto’s Ricky Romero (two points) and David Robertson (one point) also received consideration.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.