HOUSTON -- With the smell of champagne still lingering in his senses and the sight of 2 million Astros fans lining a downtown street last week to celebrate another World Series championship still fresh in mind, Justin Verlander said he didn’t exactly feel comfortable talking about an individual award.
Verlander’s third career American League Cy Young Award, which he won unanimously in voting revealed Wednesday by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, capped a storybook season in which he returned from Tommy John surgery at 39 years old and had one of the best seasons of his career. He went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA in 28 starts and was one of baseball’s biggest feel-good stories.
Verlander, who won the 2011 AL Cy Young with the Tigers -- also unanimously -- and in '19 with the Astros, becomes the first pitcher to win a Cy Young Award after not pitching in the previous season. That carries a special meaning for him.
“It shows I’m in a different point in my life," said Verlander. "I will always kind of remember this Cy Young as looking back at the growth of me as a father, as a person and also the rehab and all the hard work that went into the rehab and how I was just so committed to [the idea that] it was going to go well and I was going to come back and be me. To actually have it happen will be something I will always remember in all those great moments in my life the last couple of years.”
Verlander got all 30 first-place votes, with White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease finishing second, Blue Jays righty Alex Manoah finishing third, Angels righty Shohei Ohtani placing fourth and Astros lefty Framber Valdez coming in fifth place.
Verlander, who missed the entire 2021 season following Tommy John surgery on Sept. 30, 2020, led the AL in wins, ERA, WHIP (0.83), opponents’ OPS (.497), opponents’ batting average (.186) and hits per nine innings (5.97). His ERA was the lowest by an AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez (1.74) in 2000.
Verlander said he believed he could return to his Cy Young form heading into his fifth start of the season when he started to feel like himself.
“My mindset completely shifted to, ‘OK, I am the pitcher I’ve always been,’” he said. “That level of pitching, when I’m healthy, has always been quite high. I didn’t anticipate ending it in a Cy Young. I don’t try to put those expectations on myself. I knew I had the opportunity to go out and have a wonderful season.”
Other Astros to win the Cy Young are Mike Scott in 1986 and Roger Clemens in 2004 in the National League, and Dallas Keuchel in ’15 in the AL. Verlander finished second in the Cy Young voting in ’12, ’16 and ’18.
Here are some more of Verlander’s Cy Young accomplishments:
• Verlander joins an exclusive club, becoming the 11th pitcher to win at least three Cy Young Awards. The only pitchers with more are Greg Maddux (four), Steve Carlton (four), Randy Johnson (five) and Roger Clemens (seven). He’s the first Astros pitcher to win multiple Cy Youngs.
• At 39 years, 227 days on the last day of the regular season, he’s the fourth-oldest Cy Young winner, behind Clemens (39 years, 64 days in 2001), Early Wynn (39 years, 267 days in 1959), Gaylord Perry (40 years, 17 days in 1978) and Clemens (42 years, 60 days in 2004).
• The 2022 Cy Young is Verlander’s fifth career BBWAA award -- Cy Youngs in 2011, ’19 and ’22, the AL Most Valuable Player Award in ’11 and the AL Rookie of the Year in ’06. That’s tied for third most with Johnson (five Cy Youngs) and trails only Barry Bonds (seven MVPs) and Clemens (seven Cy Youngs, one MVP).
“It’s always nice to take moments like this award and the championship we won this year and take a beat and really appreciate it,” Verlander said. “You’re always looking forward.”
And speaking of looking forward, Verlander is a free agent and is exploring the market. Verlander said Astros owner Jim Crane texted him recently and said the Astros want to be involved.
“I’m just going to be in a situation where the market will dictate itself,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. Obviously, there’s a lot of people that are interested. Jim understands that based on our conversations. He completely understands there are a lot of people who are potentially interested, including the Astros. We’ll see what happens.”