Toronto Blue Jays lefty Robbie Ray won a most improbable AL Cy Young Award on Wednesday, bouncing back from taking a rare pay cut after a dismal season to capture pitching’s top prize.
Ray became the first Toronto pitcher to earn the honor since the late Roy Halladay in 2003.
Ray got 29 first-place voters in voting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Yankees ace Gerrit Cole got the other top vote and finished second and Chicago White Sox righty Lance Lynn was third.
The NL Cy Young was to be announced later in the day, with Corbin Burnes, Max Scherzer and Zack Wheeler were the finalists,
Ray topped the majors with 248 strikeouts and led the AL with a 2.48 ERA and 193 1/3 innings. He went 13-7 in 32 starts and helped keep Toronto in playoff contention until the final weekend.
Having turned 30 last month, the award sets him up well — a free agent, he turned down an $18.4 million qualifying offer from Toronto earlier Wednesday.
Ray’s power arm always drew attention. He ranks No. 1 in major league history with 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings (minimum: 1,000 innings), and he was an All-Star with Arizona in 2017.
But controlling his heat and sharp breaking pitches often was a problem, and Ray bottomed out last year. He led the majors in walks while going a combined 2-5 with a 6.62 ERA for the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays during the pandemic-shortened season.
The dip caused his base salary to drop from $9.43 million to $8 million this year. He earned some of that back with a $125,000 for winning the Cy Young, and figures to cash in even more soon.
Drafted and signed by Washington in 2010, Ray made his big league debut in 2014 with Detroit — that staff also included future Cy Young winners Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and David Price.
Ray was traded with cash to Toronto on Aug. 31, 2020, for reliever Travis Bergen. Ray was 49-51 with a 4.26 ERA over seven seasons in the majors before this big year.
Ray became the fifth Blue Jays pitcher to win the Cy Young, along Halladay, Roger Clemens in 1997-98 and Pat Hentgen in 1996.
The MVPs will be announced Thursday, ending the BBWAA awards season.
Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani is considered the AL favorite, with Toronto slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Blue Jays infielder Marcus Semien as the other finalists.
Phillies star Bryce Harper, Washington outfielder Juan Soto and San Diego dynamo Fernando Tatis Jr. are the NL finalists.
No matter who wins, it will mark the first time since 1987 (the Cubs’ Andre Dawson and Toronto’s George Bell) that neither MVP reached the playoffs in the year they were elected.