Cy of relief: The win goes to Eckersley Mussina fourth with 26 votes

November 11, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Dennis Eckersley, the premier reliever of the Oakland Athletics, is the runaway winner of the American League's 1992 Cy Young Award -- and fourth-place finisher Mike Mussina is among the least surprised.

"I expected him to win it all along," said Mussina, who had an 18-5 record for the Orioles. "He had a phenomenal year. He deserved it."

Eckersley, who led the major leagues with 51 saves, received 19 of the 28 first-place votes cast by a panel from the Baseball Writers Association of America that included two members from each league city. His total of 107 points more than doubled that of runner-up Jack McDowell of the Chicago White Sox, who had two first-place votes and a total of 51 points under the 5-3-1 scoring system.

Boston's Roger Clemens had the second highest number of first-place votes (four) and finished third with 48 points. Mussina, in his first full year in the major leagues, had two first-place votes and 26 points. Toronto's Jack Morris, Texas' Kevin Brown and Cleveland's Charles Nagy also received votes.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I feel very lucky," Eckersley said during a satellite news conference from his home in Boston.

"I had a good year," Eckersley said. "It was my year. Look, I made some mistakes and I still saved ballgames. I saved 51 ballgames. You can't take that away. It's not easy to do."

In addition to the saves, Eckersley went 7-1 with a 1.91 ERA. Clemens was 18-11 with a 2.41 ERA in 32 starts. McDowell had a 20-10 record with a 3.18 ERA.

Although his credentials were bona fide, Mussina (2.54 ERA) said he didn't expect to win the award.

"I just started to play this game," he said. "At the beginning of the season, I would never have expected to be among the top four or five pitchers in the league.

"I'm just happy to get my foot in the door," said Mussina. "The writers know who I am now. Maybe some day down the road I'll get another chance."

Eckersley, 38, got his second chance in 1987, when he was traded to the A's and pitching coach Dave Duncan decided he should go to the bullpen. Earlier that year, Eckersley had joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Since then he has become one of the best closers in the history of the game. In the last five seasons, he has 220 saves in 246 chances.

But his incredible 1992 season may be remembered more for the shocking way it ended.

In Game 4 of the AL playoffs with Toronto, Eckersley came on in the eighth with a 6-2 lead. Toronto scored twice before Roberto Alomar hit an Eckersley pitch for a two-run homer that sent the game into extra innings. The 7-6 win gave the Blue Jays a 3-1 lead on the way to winning the playoffs.

Eckersley still winces when talking about Alomar's homer.

"But you have to go through the pain to go on," he said. "I shed some tears and now I'm looking ahead. I just want to work hard and come back next year and prove that I'm worthy of all this."

Eckersley is only the eighth relief pitcher to win the award. Willie Hernandez (1984), Rollie Fingers (1981) and Sparky Lyle (1977) preceded him in the American League. Mark Davis (1989), Steve Bedrosian (1987), Bruce Sutter (1979) and Mike Marshall (1974) have done it in the National League.

"This job is not easy," said Eckersley, who compared his role to that of a kicker coming in to attempt a field goal with the game on the line. "I'm taking this award and wearing it with pride."

There has been a continuing controversy over the merits of relief pitchers as opposed to starters when it comes to Cy Young voting because of the huge discrepancy in the number of innings pitched. But Mussina has no problem with everybody being thrown into the mix.

"He [Eckersley] is a pitcher just like everybody else," said Mussina. "He's a closer. His role is to close out the game -- and he had 51 saves. If anybody else would have won it, I would have been surprised.

"To be honest, I didn't expect to win," said Mussina. "I was hoping to be in the top five -- and finishing four is great. It puts a little on my shoulders for next year, but hopefully I'll be ready."

It will be hard, however, for Mussina to improve on the numbers he posted last season. He led the major leagues with a .783 winning percentage and his 2.54 ERA was the third best in the American League.

In addition he allowed fewer baserunners per nine innings (9.8) ,, than any pitcher in the league (among those qualifying with 162 innings); allowed two runs or fewer in 20 of his 32 starts, and averaged 7 2/3 innings per outing, fourth best in the AL; lost four potential wins because of blown saves; and finished with a seven-game winning streak (over his last nine starts).

After starting the season 5-1, Mussina missed two starts because of the flu. Yet, he'd rather not speculate about what might have been.

"I only missed two starts," he said, "and when I came back I pitched five innings and got a win, so I can't complain. You can't look back and say if this had happened, or that had happened. There were other chances to win 20 games."

As for next year, Mussina is already preparing. "I won't start throwing for about another month," he said, "but my off-season training started two days after the season ended. You don't go to spring training to get in shape, you go to get fine-tuned for the season."

AL Cy Young voting

The voting for the 1992 American League Cy Young Award, with pitchers receiving five points for each first-place vote, three points for second and one point for third:

Player .. .. .. .. .. .. 1st .. .. 2nd .. .. 3rd .. .. Tot

Dennis Eckersley, Oak .. 19 ... ... 3 ... ... 3 ... .. 107

Jack McDowell, Chi .. ... 2 ... .. 12 ... ... 5 ... ... 51

Roger Clemens, Bos .. ... 4 ... ... 7 ... ... 7 ... ... 48

Mike Mussina, Bal ... ... 2 ... ... 4 ... ... 4 ... ... 26

Jack Morris, Tor . .. ... 1 ... ... 1 ... ... 2 ... ... 10

Kevin Brown, Tex . .. .. -- ... ... 1 ... ... 6 ... .... 9

Charles Nagy, Cle ... .. -- ... .. -- ... ... 1 ... .... 1

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