DETROIT -- No, Justin Verlander wasn't as good as last year, but he was awfully close. The American League Cy Young Award voting unveiled Wednesday reflected that.
In the end, one first-place vote and one third-place vote were the difference, leaving Verlander second to Rays left-hander David Price.
Verlander received 13 first-place votes out of 28 voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Price received 14.
Price and Verlander were first and second on 12 ballots, and reversed on 13 others. If they were reversed on one more, Verlander would have repeated as the Cy Young winner.
Verlander finished second to former teammate and current Rays closer Fernando Rodney on one ballot, and third behind Price and Angels right-hander Jered Weaver on two others.
It was the closest finish since 1969, when former Tigers great Denny McLain and Mike Cuellar finished in a tie.
Verlander congratulated Price on Twitter immediately after the vote.
The second-place finish won't impact Verlander's reputation, among many, as the nastiest pitcher in baseball, but it gives him another individual goal for next year.
Verlander had a chance to became the first repeat AL Cy Young winner since Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000, while joining McLain in Tigers lore.
Like Verlander, both McLain and Martinez took their first of back-of-back Cy Young honors with historic seasons; Martinez with a pitching Triple Crown, McLain with a 31-win season. Neither could match those standards in their follow-up seasons.
For Verlander, it was much the same, but he just didn't end up with the hardware at the end. The right-hander wasn't at his best for as long of a stretch as the 2011 season, but when the Tigers needed his best, he was there.
In that sense, Verlander accomplished what he set out to do in the beginning.
"When you see him working out there and you see him with that bulldog mentality, you feed off that," Austin Jackson said last month. "And we fed off it as a team."
Verlander's 17 wins actually marked his lowest total since he led the league in losses in 2008. In most every other category, however, Verlander's season would have qualified as his best season -- if not for last year's greatness.
"Obviously the win-loss record isn't there, but that's pretty much it," Verlander said late in the season. "I know that win-loss is something that's out of your control. You just got to go out there and try to keep your team in games and do what's to your ability."
In more specialized stats, Verlander wasn't all that different from last year.
Fourteen times in 33 starts, Verlander pitched at least eight innings with two runs or fewer, three more times than he did in 2011. He ended up with the same win total (10) in those games, in part thanks to Detroit's offense. Verlander averaged 4.38 runs of support per nine innings, ninth lowest among AL pitchers with at least 162 innings pitched, according to STATS.
By comparison, Price averaged 5.37 runs of support, while Weaver's 6.54-run average was second highest in the league.
At the height of the struggles, Verlander took a no-decision for a nine-inning, 12-strikeout gem against the Blue Jays on Aug. 23, part of a stretch of four no-decisions in August, despite 46 strikeouts over 35 2/3 innings.
Just when it looked like the Tigers' struggles were enveloping their ace, Verlander saved his best month for last. He went 5-1 in six September starts, averaged seven innings a game, held hitters to a .231 batting average and posted a 1.93 ERA.
Verlander tossed 18 consecutive scoreless innings over a four-start stretch, including six dominant innings against Oakland. He tossed eight innings with 11 strikeouts against the White Sox to help complete a three-game sweep at Comerica Park.
Verlander took that momentum into the postseason, recovering from a Coco Crisp leadoff homer in Detroit's AL Division Series opener against Oakland to toss 23 consecutive scoreless innings from there, including a complete-game shutout in Oakland in Game 5 of the ALDS. However, this is a regular-season award, and Cy Young votes were already in.
For the regular season, Verlander led the Majors in innings pitched and strikeouts for the second consecutive year, topping teammate Max Scherzer for the latter after muscle soreness around Scherzer's shoulder scratched him from a start down the stretch. Verlander's 2.64 ERA placed him second in the league behind Price.
Verlander also led all pitchers by a large margin in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), an advanced metric that attempts to quantify a pitcher's all-around contribution to his team's success. His adjusted ERA+, a metric comparing earned run average to the league average and adjusting it to the pitcher's ballpark, led all big league pitchers.
Verlander's Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), measuring how a pitcher would have performed without the variable of the defense behind him, ranked second best in the AL at 2.94, just behind Felix Hernandez and just ahead of Price.
All the while, Verlander did it with a level of attention around him that dwarfed last year's spotlight. He made a point in Spring Training to strike a balance between off-field commitments and his on-field job, and those around around him marveled at the way he handled both.
"Not only has he matured physically with his pitching and everything, but he's matured so much mentally," manager Jim Leyland said during the season. "He's figuring things out, how to get some easier outs, how to handle all the attention. This guy's done as good a job at handling all this stuff as anybody I've ever been around. I'm proud of him. And I had nothing to do with it. But I'm proud of him."
While baseball writers and fans weighed the MVP merits of Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown against Mike Trout's strength in sabermetric stats, leading some Tigers fans to turn WAR into a punch line, Verlander quietly became the new-school candidate for best pitcher.
Had Verlander topped the 20-game winner Price, he would have followed the recent trend that lifted Zack Greinke and Hernandez to Cy Young honors in 2009-10. Both of them finished several wins behind the league leaders in those years, but had stronger supporting stats, beginning with ERA.
Verlander came awfully close. It was close enough that two moments during the season stood out. One, understandably, was the Verlander-Price matchup on a Sunday afternoon June 29 at Tropicana Field. The Rays homered three times off Verlander over six innings, while Price tossed seven innings of two-run ball.
The other impact might have been Price's 20th win in his final start, a win that directly helped the Tigers in the division race. With seven innings of two-run ball against the White Sox on Sept. 30, Price dropped Chicago three games behind Detroit with three games to play.
Verlander said beforehand he was pulling for Price to win that game, that he felt like he had made his own Cy Young case already. He likely wouldn't trade the win -- even now, even if it helped keep him from a Cy Young repeat.