CLEVELAND -- Pitch by pitch, game by game, Corey Kluber steadily cemented his place among baseball's elite arms this past season. He embraced being a leader for a young starting rotation, which was tasked with carrying a heavy load for a club clinging to contention as summer gave way to
CLEVELAND -- Pitch by pitch, game by game, Corey Kluber steadily cemented his place among baseball's elite arms this past season. He embraced being a leader for a young starting rotation, which was tasked with carrying a heavy load for a club clinging to contention as summer gave way to fall.
Through it all, it seemed premature to attach the "ace" label to his name, considering the nature of Kluber's breakout season. Now, though, after the voters had their say and named him the 2014 winner of the AL Cy Young Award, there is no more denying that the right-hander deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Major League's best pitchers.
Indians ace Corey Kluber. It has a nice ring to it.
"We felt Corey was the best pitcher in the American League this year," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "With the way he pitched for the entirety of the season, and when you look at not only the numbers that he put up, but the environment he did it in and the meaning of the games in which he pitched, we felt he was certainly deserving of the honor."
On Wednesday night, Kluber was awarded the AL Cy Young by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which gave the right-hander 17 first-place votes, 11 second-place votes and two third-place votes for a total score of 169 points. He narrowly defeated Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who already has the 2010 AL Cy Young Award in his trophy case.
Hernandez garnered 13 first-place votes and 17 second-place vote for 159 total points.
After receiving the news during the live broadcast on MLB Network, Kluber cracked a smile, looked off camera and gave a thumbs-up to his wife, Amanda. Kluber found out that he won at the same time as everyone else, and the pitcher was as surprised as anyone else that he topped a pitcher of Hernandez's caliber.
"I wasn't expecting it," Kluber said. "I definitely thought Felix was going to win. He had such a great year. To me, I guess I just assumed that who he is and how good of a year he had and all that kind of stuff would get him more votes. ... I'm very appreciative of it. Obviously, I think it's one of those things where I would've been in no position to have any kind of argument if he would've won. He had such a great year."
Kluber joins lefties Cliff Lee (2008) and CC Sabathia, and right-hander Gaylord Perry (1972), as the only pitchers in franchise history to capture a Cy Young Award. Kluber did so with an 18-9 record, 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts in 34 starts (235 2/3 innings) this season, which was one of the most overpowering campaigns in the long, storied annals of the Indians.
Over the past 25 years, only Kluber, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Rogers Clemens have enjoyed a season with at least 18 wins and 260 strikeouts, along with an ERA under 2.50. In Cleveland's team history, only Bob Feller (1946) and Luis Tiant (1968) achieved the same feat.
Before the announcement, Indians catcher Yan Gomes was pacing back and forth, nervously awaiting the news. Gomes was with his young daughter at the time, and the catcher joked that she seemed as nervous as he was before Kluber's name was called.
"It was unbelievable," Gomes said. "It almost felt like I was the one winning the award. I was so excited for him."
Kluber finished tied for the AL lead in wins, led the league in Fielding Independent Pitching (2.35), ranked second in the league in strikeouts and third in ERA and innings. The right-hander ended the year with the highest WAR rating (7.4, according to baseball-reference.com) of any AL pitcher and second in the Majors only to NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw (8.0).
Most importantly, Kluber stepped up when Cleveland needed him the most.
Opening Day starter Justin Masterson labored out of the gates in 2014, putting a strain on the starting staff and leading to a trade that sent the sinkerballer to St. Louis at the July 31 Trade Deadline. Kluber responded with a 1.88 ERA in his 12 starts after Masterson was traded, taking over as the Tribe's rotation leader both in terms of performance and leadership.
That stretch began with an outing at home on July 30, when Kluber outdueled Hernandez with a shutout in a 2-0 victory over the Mariners.
"He kind of went out there, without telling anybody," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said, "and he kind of showed everybody, 'Hey, I'm the leader now and this is the way we do things.' He was out there and he was dominant in a big game for us."
In the second half, while the Indians stayed within earshot of the postseason picture, Kluber elevated his game, too. The right-hander posted a Major League-best 1.73 ERA after the All-Star break and led the way for one of baseball's best rotations down the stretch. Over his final five starts in September, all Kluber did was go 5-0 with a 1.12 ERA in 40 1/3 innings, striking out 54 and walking only five along the way.
Through it all, Kluber tried to ignore the growing talk of a possible Cy Young victory.
"Because of the fact that we were in the playoff race," Kluber said, "we were right there until the last weekend of the year, that was what my focus was. I wasn't trying to pitch against Felix or Chris [Sale] or [Jon] Lester, or anybody else that had a great year. I was trying to go out there and help us win as many games as possible."
Kluber's 269 strikeouts were the most in a single season for an Indians pitcher since 1970, ranked sixth on the club's all-time list and have only been topped by Feller and Sam McDowell in club history. Kluber became the ninth pitcher in baseball history to strike out at least 14 in consecutive starts (Sept. 16-21). He also set a club record with seven outings consisting of at least 10 strikeouts and no more than one walk.
Simply put, Kluber was brilliant and more than deserving of the Cy Young.
Adding to the remarkable nature of Kluber's year is the fact that it was his first full season in the Major Leagues. Acquired from the Padres in the trade that sent Jake Westbrook to San Diego in July 2010, Kluber made a dozen starts for the Tribe in 2012 and flashed potential in an injury-marred showing in 2013 (11-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 26 games).
"I think 2013 was a big year for me just from a confidence standpoint," Kluber said. "I kind of carried the confidence from that into the offseason and into Spring Training."
This past season was the first time that Kluber began a campaign as a member of Cleveland's Opening Day rotation. Now, the right-hander is positioned to be the Tribe's Opening Day starter for the foreseeable future, which the Indians can only hope includes more hardware for his personal collection.
"You can't have a better guy setting the standard for the pitching staff," Antonetti said.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.