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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Justin Verlander and Sandy Alcantara win MLB’s Cy Young Awards

Justin Verlander’s comeback from two seasons lost to injury included an E.R.A. title and his first career victory in a World Series game.

By Benjamin Hoffman

In Justin Verlander’s long and celebrated career, it has never been enough to pitch better than his peers. A flame-throwing, right-handed starter, he also needed to pitch more than anyone else.

That determination has led to 12 seasons of at least 200 innings pitched, 251 regular-season games in which he went at least seven innings, and five seasons in which he led his league in starts. “Throwback” is used to describe him so often that he might as well work for the Mitchell & Ness apparel company.

“I do often wonder how I would have been back then,” Verlander said in 2017 when asked about the days in which pitchers were expected to finish nearly every game they started. “I think it would be a pretty cool time to play baseball.”

In 2022, a slightly different Verlander emerged. Returning to the Houston Astros from nearly two seasons lost to injuries — one six-inning start was his total output for 2020 and 2021 — he led the American League in wins (18), ERA (1.75) and hits allowed per nine innings (6.0), but he was limited — by his standards — to 175 innings, tied for 34th in the majors.

The quality was enough to overcome any concerns about the quantity, as Verlander, 39, won the AL Cy Young Award on Wednesday, holding off younger starters who pitched more innings but couldn’t quite match his shockingly good comeback season.

It is the third Cy Young of Verlander’s career, after also winning in 2011 and 2019, and the ninth season in which he placed in the top five in voting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He proved that his talk during spring training about potentially hanging around long enough to win 300 games — he leads active starters with 244 — was not all bluster. And the award was a fitting end to a season in which Verlander, a likely Hall of Famer, won a World Series game for the first time after struggling in eight previous starts.

“The carrot in front of me that I keep striving for is to be great,” Verlander told Tyler Kepner of The New York Times before the season. “And so I wouldn’t do it otherwise.”

In the National League, the Cy Young Award went to Miami’s Sandy Alcantara, a hard-throwing right-hander who has fashioned himself as a successor of sorts to Verlander: Alcantara’s 228 2/3 innings led the majors in 2022, and his 434 1/3 innings over the last two seasons are 36 1/3 more than any other pitcher (and the equivalent of just under seven average starts).

Alcantara, 27, was an All-Star in 2019, and his career ERA of 3.49 coming into the year was solid. But his success was obscured by his 20-34 career record with the perpetually rebuilding Marlins. His team struggled again in 2022, losing 93 games, but Alcantara thrived, going 14-9 with a 2.28 ERA and 207 strikeouts. He completed six of his 32 starts, while the rest of Major League Baseball’s pitchers combined to complete only 30 of 4,828.

Asked in an interview on MLB Network about completing so many games — he had more than any other team in 2022 — Alcantara said that is his goal in every start.

“Always,” he said. “That’s why I get so mad when they take me in the eighth.”

Despite his success, Alcantara said he has room to improve, with opportunities to get better from “my foot to my hat.”

“Everything that I want to do, I want to do perfect,” he said. “I don’t feel happy when I do something really good today because I know tomorrow I could do bad.”

Verlander, who is a free agent after opting out of his $25 million player option for 2023, was a unanimous winner with all 30 first-place votes, topping his fellow finalists, Dylan Cease of the Chicago White Sox (14 second-place votes) and Alek Manoah of the Toronto Blue Jays (seven second-place votes).

Alcantara, who signed a five-year, $56 million extension with the Marlins in November 2021, was also a unanimous pick, putting him far ahead of the other finalists, Max Fried of the Atlanta Braves (10 second-place votes) and Julio Urías of the Los Angeles Dodgers (seven second-place votes).

The only other season in which both Cy Young votes were unanimous was 1968 when Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals, with a 1.12 ERA, won the NL award and Denny McClain of the Detroit Tigers, with 31 wins, won the AL award.

“What do you want me to say?” Alcantara said immediately after Pedro Martínez, one of the two other pitchers from the Dominican Republic to win a Cy Young (Bartolo Colón, in 2005, was the third), announced his win. “I made it.”

Awards season was to conclude Thursday with the presentation of the MVP awards.

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