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CROWD AT THE TOP
On Aug. 17, with six weeks left in the season, Bob Welch of the A's won his 20th game (against only four losses). Normally that would make him the front-runner for the American League Cy Young Award. Not this year, however. The 1990 Cy Young race may be the most competitive in 10 years.
By October, Welch will almost assuredly be joined in the 20-win circle by teammate Dave Stewart (17-8 at week's end), Boston's Roger Clemens (18-5), California's Chuck Finley (16-5) and Toronto's Dave Stieb (16-4). The American League has not had five 20-game winners since 1980. It also has been 10 years since the league has had as many as four 20-game winners who lost fewer than 10 games.
This year's Cy Young race has some other intriguing sidelights. Clemens, who received the award in 1986 and '87, could become the first American League pitcher to win it in two different decades. A third Cy Young would tie him with Jim Palmer for the most in league history. Finally, what if relievers Bobby Thigpen (40 saves) of the White Sox and Dennis Eckersley (38) of the A's break Dave Righetti's major league record of 46 saves in a season? Will they figure in the voting?
"If you don't count relievers, there are only three guys," says Stewart, who has criticized the balloting on several occasions in years past. "My choice for the front-runner is Welch, but I know a lot of people say Clemens. I know what Clemens has done for Boston, but now is not the time to change the rules. The guys who won it the last three years won the most games and had good stats. If Bob Welch continues to win at this pace, and he doesn't get it, something is terribly wrong with the judging."
Of course, those are the words of a loyal teammate. Here is a more impartial handicapping of the race as it heads into the homestretch (all stats are through Sunday's games):
Clemens: The slight favorite. He leads the league in ERA (2.04) and strikeouts (183) and is tied with Stewart for the lead in shutouts, with three, and in innings pitched. He has a chance to be only the eighth pitcher in history to lead the majors in wins, ERA and strikeouts in the same season. Clemens is 11-2 in games that he has started after a Boston defeat. A strong finisher, Clemens has allowed only six earned runs in 64? innings since the All-Star break.
Stewart: Probably the sentimental choice because he has come so close without ever having won. A sure bet to win 20 games for the fourth straight year. He is third in ERA (2.43) and first in complete games (8). He's the guts of the tremendous Oakland staff, the man the Athletics look to for strength and stability. He has won his last five starts—two of them in extra innings—allowing three earned runs in 45? innings.
Welch: Reached 20 wins (his first 20-win season) faster than any pitcher in either league since Wilbur Wood of the White Sox in 1973. Welch sure to become the only pitcher with 15-plus victories and fewer than 10 losses in each of the last four years. He is sixth in ERA (3.09), but when it comes to walks allowed and hits-to-innings-pitched ratio, he can't match Clemens, and he has only two complete games.
If Finley and Stieb finish strong, they could crack the top three, as might a reliever. Chances are, though, the race will come down to Clemens, Stewart and Welch. When asked if he cared whether he won the Cy Young, Clemens said, "I really don't. I've won two of them. Anyway, it seems every time I win one, my wife has a baby. We have two boys, and she's been talking about a girl lately."