CLEVELAND -- After his 12th and final start of the 2020 regular season, there aren’t many adjectives left to describe the way Shane Bieber has dominated on the rubber. He’s hit milestones, set records and made it as easy on American League Cy Young Award voters as possible. Now, he’ll look to bring AL Triple Crown honors back to Cleveland for the first time since 1940.
It wasn’t his best outing of the year, but “laboring” for Bieber in 2020 has been defined as a similar line to Wednesday’s performance: five innings, two hits, one unearned run, three walks and 10 strikeouts. And it was enough to help lead the Tribe to a 3-2 walk-off victory over the White Sox at Progressive Field on a Jordan Luplow solo blast. Cleveland now trails first-place Minnesota by 2 1/2 games and is two behind Chicago in the AL Central.
“I mean, this whole season -- even the testament tonight, [Bieber] goes out and he performs, day in and day out,” said Triston McKenzie, who tossed two scoreless innings in relief. “You see it in his work ethic and you see it in his performance tonight. That’s a whole season long of just going out there and dominating guys. It’s just great to see and it’s great to be a part of, and it’s great to watch firsthand.”
From the moment Bieber first fanned 14 batters on Opening Day, he immediately established himself as the frontrunner to take home the AL Cy Young Award. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he tied the record for the most strikeouts through the first two starts of a season (27).
Bieber later became the fastest pitcher to reach 100 strikeouts in a season (through 62 1/3 innings), and he owned the second-longest streak in Major League history by recording at least eight strikeouts in each of his first 12 starts of the year, trailing just Randy Johnson, who did so in his first 15 starts in 2000. And now that his regular season is complete, his 41.1 percent strikeout rate is the highest by a qualified starting pitcher in a season.
“It's special,” Luplow said of Bieber’s year. “It's nice being out in the outfield, not having to do much, I'll tell you that. Playing behind that, you know you have a chance to win every day. He's a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. It's special.”
But Bieber’s accolades for the regular season aren’t over just yet. The 25-year-old has a chance at becoming the Indians’ first AL Triple Crown winner since Bob Feller in 1940. He ended his season with a 1.63 ERA, eight wins and 122 strikeouts. Just Gerrit Cole of the Yankees and Marco Gonzales of the Mariners could tie Bieber in wins if they pick up one more by Sunday.
Could Bieber find a way to top that? The right-hander not only sits atop the AL leaderboard in the Triple Crown categories, but he also leads all qualified pitchers in the Majors. As of Wednesday night, Reds starter and former Tribe player Trevor Bauer was second to Bieber in ERA (1.73) and strikeouts (100). Bieber would become the first pitcher to win the MLB Triple Crown since Johan Santana in 2006.
Even with all his accomplishments, Bieber hesitates to reflect until he reaches the offseason.
“You know me, I’m not going to get caught up in this stuff,” Bieber said when asked what he was most proud of. “But I guess I would just say consistency. It’s been nice to be able to go out there and have that consistent confidence going in, day in and day out.”
Now, the focus for Bieber shifts to the postseason. The rookie who was in the Tribe’s bullpen in Houston during the AL Division Series in 2018 -- and was slated to start Game 4, if the team had gotten there -- is ready for his first chance to pitch in the playoffs.
“It was a good experience nonetheless,” Bieber said. “I feel like it was one that I can learn from. I was able to see the playoffs firsthand and be in an unbelievable environment with the bullpen that we had that year and ask those guys questions and learn from them. So definitely excited to put one foot in front of the other and continue to move forward with this squad we have now.”