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Try these on for Cys
Michael Farber
September 14, 1998
Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez are neck and neck in the American League Cy Young race. Too bad nobody's paying attention
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September 14, 1998

Try These On For Cys

Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez are neck and neck in the American League Cy Young race. Too bad nobody's paying attention

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YEAR-LEAGUE

CY YOUNG WINNER/STAT RIVALS

RECORD

ERA

1984-NL

Rick Sutcliffe, Cubs

16-1

2.69

Dwight Gooden, Mets

17-9

2.60

1982-AL

Pete Vuckovich, Brewers

18-6

3.34

Dave Stieb, Blue Jays

17-14

3.25

1981-NL

Fernando Valenzuela, Dodgers

13-7

2.48

Steve Carlton, Phillies

13-4

2.42

Tom Seaver, Reds

14-2

2.55

1976-NL

Randy Jones, Padres

22-14

2.74

Jerry Koosman, Mets

21-10

2.70

1970-NL

Bob Gibson, Cardinals

23-7

3.12

Gaylord Perry, Giants

23-13

3.20

1964-ML

Dean Chance, Angels

20-9

1.65

Sandy Koufax, Dodgers

19-5

1.74

1960-ML

Vern Law, Pirates

20-9

3.08

Ernie Broglio, Cardinals

21-9

2.74

1959-ML

Early Wynn, White Sox

22-10

3.17

Sam Jones, Giants

21-15

2.83

Warren Spahn, Braves

21-15

2.96

1958-ML

BobTurley, Yankees

21-7

2.97

Lew Burdette, Braves

20-10

2.91

Warren Spahn, Braves

22-11

3.07

1957-ML

Warren Spahn, Braves

21-11

2.69

Jim Bunning, Tigers

20-8

2.69

From 1956 through '66 there was only one award winner for the major leagues.

SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU

Pedro Martinez, who splashes around in the shallow end of the Boston Red Sox' weekly NFL pool, sat at his locker in the visitors' clubhouse in Toronto last Friday busily circling his selections and sharing startling insights you just can't get from any 900 number. He liked Atlanta ("They've got the best rotation," Martinez said), Pittsburgh ("Greg Lloyd signed a football for me"), Miami ("Great weather") and St. Louis ("McGwire...ahhh") and took 48 points as his Monday-night tiebreaker because his brother Ramon, the Los Angeles Dodgers righthander, wears number 48. "Here's a winner," he announced with as much cheek as conviction.

There was another sporting contest at the SkyDome heading into last weekend that was a pick 'em: the American League Cy Young Award race between Martinez and the Toronto Blue Jays' Roger Clemens. This was a confounding one because, being people, neither of them possesses great weather. Anyway, in the spirit of Martinez's system of personal preference, we can think of compelling reasons that favor each of the front-runners: Pedro ("Sent Rolex watches last week to his former manager and coaches in Montreal as a token of appreciation") and Roger ("Hit balls to his sons on the field after the game last Thursday").

The serious, break-out-your-calculator stuff? Entering the four-game series, the only spread between the 36-year-old Clemens and Martinez—the 26-year-old righthander Boston acquired last winter, after an appropriate one-year mourning period, to replace the Rocket—was the two days between their starts. If you took a snapshot last Saturday night, Clemens had a minuscule edge, though New Yorkers might argue that Yankees lefthander David Wells, who was 17-2 with a perfect game, might make this whole thing an exercise in rock-paper-scissors. Martinez left after giving up three runs in seven innings last Thursday in a game Boston would lose to the Blue Jays 4-3 in 11 innings, but Clemens trumped him with his 18th victory on Saturday, also 4-3. Clemens allowed two runs on three hits and struck out 11 in eight innings, tying Martinez and three others for the major league lead in wins; moving eight strikeouts ahead of Martinez, with a league-high 227; lowering his ERA to 2.62, also a league best and 0.09 better than his rival; and whittling his opponents' batting average to a puny .192, a comfortable .026 ahead of Martinez's. Martinez, who at 18-4 has two fewer losses, is a close second in almost all those categories, nothing a shutout can't rearrange. Wells, meanwhile, is fifth in the league in ERA at 3.22, but he has more complete games (seven) and shutouts (five) than the other two contenders. With four or five starts left for each, the only thing certain is that 28 voting baseball writers can't take Pedro and the points.

Of course in the era when you bought bleacher seats because they were affordable and not an investment strategy, a Cy Young race featuring such luminaries—Clemens could be the first five-time winner and Martinez could be the first pitcher to win in consecutive years in different leagues-would be the talk of baseball. Instead it's a sideshow. Too bad. Clemens and Martinez are the mirror image of Mac and Sammy; one an all-American hero, one a Dominican role model, two power guys on the cusp of unclaimed territory, yet they aren't being heard over the sonic booms.

There is no end to the indignities dealt to pitchers in the name of record pursuit. Consider Clemens. He was about to ring up a club-record 18th strikeout against Kansas City on Aug. 25 when TSN, the cable network showing the game in Canada, shoe-horned the Rocket into a box in the corner of the screen, without sound, and cut to McGwire even though Mac was only swinging for homer number 54.

Clemens hasn't lost since May 29. He was warming up in the Toronto bullpen before his next start, on June 3, when he glanced at the scoreboard and saw his mediocre 5-6 record. Clemens has put up big numbers in his career—he passed 3,100 strikeouts last Saturday—but nothing quite as huge or unflattering as the ones in lights that night. He turned to pitching coach Mel Queen and said, "That's embarrassing. That's not me." True. Clemens was not himself.

On April 7, against the Minnesota Twins, he had left after seven pitches with a pulled groin muscle. Over his next nine starts he recovered slowly from that injury, which robbed him of some leg drive. But there were tugs on an even more sensitive muscle, his heart. His grandmother, Myrtle Lee, had died before spring training; his mother, Bess, was battling emphysema back in Texas; and his wife, Deb, was hospitalized briefly early in the season. Clemens was flying back and forth to Texas, shuttling between his job and his life. "I've always preached to teammates, especially to the starters, that we owe it to the other guys in the clubhouse every fifth day to put everything else aside, personal stuff, financial stuff, whatever," Clemens says. "I think I did, but some of the people around me"—Queen and Toronto manager Tim Johnson—"thought they could see a slight difference in my intensity level."

Since his brief bout of scoreboard shock, Clemens hasn't lost. Not only has he been brilliant during a streak of 13 wins in 18 starts—including eight games with at least 10 strikeouts, and no homers allowed since July 12—he has also been resourceful. When the Jays dumped high-priced closer Randy Myers on Aug. 6, Clemens more or less took over as his own closer, allowing 28 hits and seven earned runs while pitching three complete games in his last seven starts. After three straight shutouts, he left after eight innings last Saturday (his team-record streak of scoreless innings had been stopped at 33 by a two-run Boston fifth) but not before tidying up by striking out Mo Vaughn and getting MVP contender Nomar Garciaparra to tap to third. Clemens, approaching 120 pitches, started Garciaparra, his final batter, with three fastballs: 99,98 and 97 mph on the Blue Jays' pitching chart. "That's why he's at another level, the best I've ever seen," Johnson says. "When I went to the mound before Vaughn hit, I asked Roger if he had enough left. He said he wanted those two guys. Like I'm going to tell him anything at that point other than 'Go get 'em.' "

Clemens has earned that kind of latitude in Toronto, where former team president Paul Beeston, now the No. 2 man in Major League Baseball, promised him that the Blue Jays would try to honor his trade request if they ever rebuilt. The 36-year-old Clemens, who is signed for two more seasons, never made one, though before the July 31 trade deadline he did ask general manager Gord Ash if the trades of Myers and third baseman Ed Sprague constituted "reloading" rather than "rebuilding." In late July several teams—reportedly including the Red Sox—inquired about Clemens, but Ash never found a fit. The most attractive offer came from the Yankees, but, Ash says, "that was reactive and not proactive on their part." Translation: If Randy Johnson had gone from Seattle to Cleveland, Clemens might have been on his way to the Bronx.

He could still be moving this winter even though his pitching has helped nudge Toronto, winner of 10 straight at week's end, back into the wild-card race. Ash won't have his 1999 budget until the end of the month, and if the Blue Jays, buffeted by a 65-cent Canadian dollar, are going to lie low for a year, well, Clemens could go from Cy Young to sayonara (as Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles said of teammate Sparky Lyle two decades ago). "I've been blessed with four of them, one for each of my sons," says Clemens, who won the award last year, his first in Toronto. "But really, my goal every year is just to be one of the best two or three guys in the league. The thing that matters is giving my team a chance to win." Toronto is 20-9 in his starts, a game behind the Red Sox' 21-8 when Martinez pitches.

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