Minnesota Twins pitcher Johan Santana took a look around Venezuela and realized the significance of his accomplishment. A nation in political turmoil had people dancing in the streets.
Santana, 25, became the first Venezuelan to win the Cy Young Award yesterday, as voters made him a unanimous selection for the American League honor, recognizing a season in which he won AL Pitcher of the Month honors for July, August and September.
Santana finished 20-6 and led the league in ERA (2.61), strikeouts (265) and opponents' batting average (.192).
He received all 28 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, becoming the Cy Young's 18th unanimous winner. Roger Clemens claimed the National League award on Tuesday.
Boston Red Sox starter Curt Schilling finished second in the AL voting, and New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera was a distant third.
After getting the news in his hometown of Tovar, Venezuela, Santana flew to the capital city of Caracas and spoke of bringing hope to a country embroiled in conflict over populist president Hugo Chavez.
"I'm real proud to be a Venezuelan," Santana said. "It means a lot to be the first one from my country to win this award. We want the people to know all the things we can do in this country. It's such a beautiful country."
The award highlighted the progress Santana has made since his fledgling days in the Houston Astros' minor league system. He had been a center fielder in the same Venezuelan academy that produced Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora, but the Astros liked Santana's powerful left-handed arm and converted him to a pitcher.
But after the 1999 season, the Astros decided not to protect Santana on their 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft. He wound up with the Twins, who had to keep Santana on their roster during the 2000 season or offer him back to the Astros.
The Twins let him handle mop-up duty out of their bullpen, and soon their patience was rewarded. After mastering his changeup - a pitch that became his most dependable one this season - during a 2002 stint at Triple-A, Santana thrived in a bullpen role with the Twins before finally moving into the starting rotation midway through last season.
He finished 12-3 with a 3.07 ERA, setting the stage for this year's march to the Cy Young Award. From July 1 through the end of this season, he went 14-2 with a 1.39 ERA, a stretch that included a 13-game winning streak.
"To be honest, I'm surprised this was a unanimous decision," Santana said. "I thought it was going to be really close [with Schilling]."
Schilling, who turns 38 on Sunday, has never won the Cy Young, and this marked a record third time he has finished second in the voting. He was picked second on 27 of the 28 ballots, and third on the other.
In early October, Schilling told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "If people who actually cast the ballots understand the game, [Santana will] win it. He's been the best pitcher in this league."
Schilling led the majors in victories with a 21-6 record and posted a 3.26 ERA. The votes were cast before the postseason, when Schilling helped lead the Red Sox to a World Series title pitching with a surgically repaired right ankle. (Voting, 9e)