Cy Young is in the Cards

added 10/3/2005 by Dustin Wenzel

No eighth Cy Young for Rocket in '05?
When Astros' hurler Roger Clemens steps off the Turner Field mound on Thursday night, he may have a familiar feeling. He's had it before. Nine other times.

Nine times he's pitched near perfectly this season - six of them on the road. Just as many times, his teammates' bats have let him down by not scoring a single run. But the result of that absent run support won't be shown just on a scoreboard.

The 43-year-old mammoth of a pitcher just finished up a season in which his performance would usually make him a frontrunner for his eighth Cy Young award. But as the season wound down and his competition got stronger, the evidence became clear that Clemens could possibly retire with that No. 8 hanging over his head - a sort of Cy Young could've been, should've been. Clemens has openly stated he doesn't pay attention to those type of accolades.

I disagree. His drive and competitiveness have kept him going for 22 years and could drive him into his middle-to-late 40s. When not in a pennant chase, one concrete reason for his dominance at the end of the season is the hardware - and, of course, the chase for the World Series ring.

The numbers game

If voters look at his per-game performance, Clemens would hold his eighth hands down. Out of his 32 starts, Clemens has not allowed an earned run 11 times. He's yielded only one run nine times and just two on seven other occasions. His ERA never jumped above 2.00 the entire season, and while his strikeout numbers aren't astronomical, his game-by-game numbers - five games of nine or more Ks - speak for themselves.

His bullpen would even give him an award for the rest he's given it. In 21 of those starts, Clemens has gone at least seven innings. Four of those were eight-inning performances. In the entire month of April and all but one start in July, he was automatic for seven-plus.

As much as Clemens hopes voters look at his earned run average, strikeouts and number of quality starts (20) - and not his win-loss record - they won't, because they haven't ever. Not since 1981 has an National League starting pitcher won the Cy Young Award with less than 16 wins. In his seven Cy Young years, Clemens has averaged 20 wins. Clemens finished the year first in the majors with a 1.87 ERA, 10th in the NL in strikeouts (185) and tied for 20th in innings pitched (211.1).

The field

Clemens lost to one of the frontrunners, St. Louis Cardinals' ace Chris Carpenter, in August when he tweaked his hamstring in an Astros' 4-2 loss at home.

Carpenter has come out of nowhere from two seasons ago, and voters typically like to root for the unknown and the underdogs. Carpenter is in the top five of every major statistical pitching category in the majors - wins (second with 22), strikeouts (third with 213), ERA (fifth with 2.83), complete games (tied for first with seven) and shutouts (second with four). The list goes on, and it doesn't hurt he's the leading pitcher on the best team in the National League, in terms of records. Since Carpenter had such a dominant season in 2004 and did not win the award, voters may also be sympathetic to his cause.

Willis is another fan favorite, and with a strong push in September, may have overtaken Carpenter in some voters' eyes. The youngster with the non-traditional windup has more wins (22) than Carpenter, more shutouts (5) and a better ERA (2.63). He's not a strikeout machine, so he's only 18th in the NL.

Carpenter and Willis were the first two to reach 20 wins in the majors. In defense of Clemens, those other two hurlers have had superb run support, and Willis has still given up his share of runs. But few will look at run support or lack thereof, as they didn't last year when Randy Johnson went 16-14 despite having an ERA under 3.00 and pitched a perfect game.

The decision

The truth of the matter is this - the Astros making the playoffs could make voters to see the real value of Clemens - instead of Willis. A pitcher on a playoff team has more value than one that couldn't get his squad to the promised land - no matter if it was no fault of his own. Carpenter has already sealed up a playoff berth and a division title for his Cardinals. Since no reliever is worthy of Cy Young talk this season, this is a three-horse race.

All have arguments working against them. Clemens was hampered by injury in Setpember and doesn't have enough wins. Carpenter faltered down the stretch, giving up 22 earned runs in his last five starts. Willis finished strong, winning eight of his last 10 starts, but opponents never knew which Willis would show up.

As much as I was brought up to dislike the Cards, Carpenter's first Cy Young Award is in the cards.

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Dustin Wenzel is a sportswriter with the Katy Courier.