Verlander, Alcantara are unanimous Cy Young Award winners

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON — It didn’t take Justin Verlander long to realize he could have a special year after missing almost two full seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Heading into his fifth start, Verlander knew he was back.

“In that moment, I felt normal and like myself, pain-free, able to recover like I always have,” he said. “I think my mindset just completely shifted to like, `OK, I am the pitcher I’ve always been.”‘

On Wednesday, the Houston ace capped his stellar season by winning the American League Cy Young Award, joining Miami’s Sandy Alcantara in the National League as unanimous selections.

It’s the second time the winners in both leagues were unanimous since the award began in 1956 and the first since Detroit’s Denny McLain in the AL and St. Louis’ Bob Gibson in the NL swept the voting in 1968.

The 39-year-old Verlander, who also won the award in 2019 after winning both MVP and the Cy Young in 2011, becomes the 11th player to win it three times. He also won unanimously in 2011.

He said this one has a different meaning.

“It shows that I’m at a different point in my life,” Verlander said. “I will always remember this Cy Young as looking back at the growth of me as a father and as a person, and just also the the rehab and all the hard work that went into the rehab and how I was just so committed to it was going to go well and I was going to come back and be me.”

Verlander led the majors with a 1.75 ERA, the lowest of his 17-year career. He becomes the fourth AL pitcher with two unanimous Cy Young Awards, joining Roger Clemens (1986, 1998), Pedro Martinez (1999, 2000) and Johan Santana (2004, 2006).

Verlander led the Astros to the best record in the AL, and while the postseason doesn’t count for the award, he got his first career World Series win in Game 5 as Houston beat Philadelphia in six games.

Verlander, who will receive a $200,000 bonus, is a free agent and said he has communicated with Astros owner Jim Crane about a possible return, but noted that Houston is far from his only potential suitor.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of people that are interested and Jim understands that based on our conversation,” he said. “He completely understands that. … So we’ll see what happens.”

Alcantara had a 2.28 ERA while pitching a major league-best 228 2/3 innings and six compete games. It’s the first Cy Young Award for the 27-year-old from the Dominican Republic, who becomes the first Marlins player to receive the honor.

“It makes me feel so special because I came here to the Marlins with my positive mentality – just tried to win,” he said. “Tried to compete, tried to get better. This year I put everything in the same spot, working hard. I’ve had great success. And now to win the National League Cy Young, I feel so happy and blessed.”

Alcantara received all 30 first-place votes, the 15th time the NL has had a unanimous winner. Atlanta’s Max Fried was second with 72 points, including 10 second-place votes, and Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Julio Urias was third 66 points and seven second-place votes.

Behind Verlander, who was the 11th AL pitcher to win unanimously, were Dylan Cease of the Chicago White Sox with 97 points and 14 second-place votes and Toronto’s Alek Manoah with 87 points and seven second-place votes. The three pitchers were named on every ballot.

Verlander’s 18 wins led the AL, and he had 185 strikeouts to give him 3,198 in his career, the most among active players.

Alcantara’s six complete games were the most in the majors since Chris Sale had six in 2016. The two-time All-Star went 14-9 and threw seven or more innings in 13 straight starts from May 11-July 15, which was the longest such streak since 2014.

Alcantara’s innings pitched and wins were both career highs and his ERA was his best in six seasons and ranked second in the NL.

“The hard work, the positivity, every day, fighting for my team, competing against any team. That makes it special,” he said. “My mentality all the time is to be aggressive. Try to get better every day. And I’ll keep doing the same. And let’s see if I can win the Cy Young next year, too.”

He joins Martinez (1997) as the only player born in the Dominican Republic to win the NL award. Martinez also won twice in the AL (1999, 2000) and the other Dominican winner in the AL was Bartolo Colon in 2005.

Urias was 17-7 and led the NL with a 2.16 ERA to help the Dodgers lead the majors with 111 wins in the regular season. The left-hander had 166 strikeouts after a 2021 season in which he led the majors with 20 wins.

Fried was 14-7 with a 2.48 ERA and 170 strikeouts. He was a first-time All-Star and helped lead the Braves to their fifth straight NL East crown.

Cease was 14-8 and ranked second to Verlander in the AL with a 2.20 ERA. He had a career-high 227 strikeouts and went 14 consecutive starts this summer without allowing more than one earned run.

Manoah went 16-7 with a 2.24 ERA in his second season. He had 180 strikeouts and went 4-0 with a 0.88 ERA in his last six starts to help the Blue Jays make the playoffs.

Phillies, RHP Taijuan Walker reportedly agree to 4-year deal

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – The active Philadelphia Phillies added Taijuan Walker to their rotation on Tuesday, agreeing to a $72 million, four-year contract with the right-hander.

A person familiar with the negotiations confirmed the move to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it was pending a physical.

It was the second major free-agent score for the Phillies at the winter meetings after they reeled in shortstop Trea Turner on Monday with a $300 million, 11-year deal. Walker and Turner join a Phillies team that made it to the World Series this year before losing to the Houston Astros.

The 30-year-old Walker went 12-5 with a 3.49 ERA in 29 starts this season for the New York Mets, one of Philadelphia’s biggest NL East rivals. He slots into a rotation fronted by Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.

The Phillies recently lost pitcher Zach Eflin in free agency to Tampa Bay.

Asked about the market for Walker earlier in the day, agent Scott Boras said it was robust.

“As you can see in the marketplace, there’s a whole number of pitchers that are throwing 60 and 70 innings that have been pursued, probably with the exception of (Jacob) deGrom, at the lower end of threshold around $13-15 million a year because the demand for quality pitching is so great,” Boras said.

“So, Tai … is one of the younger ones, one of the more durable ones and we expect him to be pursued greatly as his market unfolds.”

Walker was selected by Seattle with the No. 43 pick in the 2010 amateur draft. He made his big league debut with the Mariners in 2013.

Walker signed with New York as a free agent in February 2021. He turned down a $7.5 million player option last month in favor of a $3 million buyout, making his deal worth $17 million over two seasons.

The 6-foot-4 Walker made the All-Star team for the first time in 2021, putting together a fast start before fading to a 7-11 record with a 4.47 ERA in 30 games, 29 starts.