Through the years, Bartolo Colon and Mariano Rivera would meet on the warning tracks at whatever stadium they opposed each other, be it in New York or Chicago, Cleveland or Anaheim. Colon, the hefty right-hander from the Dominican Republic, would ask the questions. "How do you hold your cut fastball?" Rivera, the slender closer from Panama, would provide the answers.
Yesterday, Rivera's lessons turned out to be at his own expense. Colon, now with the Los Angeles Angels, won the American League's Cy Young award, outdistancing runner-up Rivera, the New York Yankees' closer, in voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"More than anything, Mariano has taught me how to hold a cut fastball, and how to be a pitcher, how to be a complete pitcher," Colon said, through an interpreter, in a conference call with reporters.
Colon, long a workhorse, showed his ability to be a complete pitcher this season, his second with the Angels. He went 21-8, was the American League's only 20-game winner, and posted a 3.48 ERA, eighth-best in the league. He gained 17 of the 28 first-place votes cast by two writers in each American League city and finished with 118 points. He is just the second Angel to win the award. Dean Chance, who won in 1964, was the other.
Rivera, who went 7-4 with a 1.38 ERA and 43 saves, was second with eight first-place votes and 68 points. The dominant closer of his era, Rivera finished higher than at any point in his career. He was third in 1996, 1999 and 2004. Last year's winner, Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins, placed third.
Colon said Rivera and Pedro Martinez of the New York Mets both helped him turn from a thrower to a pitcher.
"His ability to turn his fastball into three different looks is really the key to what he does on the mound," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "To combine the velocity with the great command he has is a package you don't see very often. It puts him in an elite group of pitchers."
The mere mention of Colon could be enough to drive Washington Nationals fans crazy. In 2002, when the Montreal Expos -- the Nationals' predecessors -- were scheduled to be eliminated, then-general manager Omar Minaya traded with the Cleveland Indians for Colon in an effort to make a late push for the playoffs. Colon went 10-4 for Montreal, but in the process the Expos sent prospects Grady Sizemore, a center fielder, and Cliff Lee, a left-hander, to the Indians. Sizemore, who hit .289 with 22 homers and 89 RBI for the Indians this year, is regarded as one of the game's best young players. Lee went 18-5 with a 3.79 ERA for Cleveland. When the Expos traded Colon to the Chicago White Sox in January of 2003, they received, in return, three players who are no longer with the organization -- Rocky Biddle, Jeff Liefer and Orlando Hernandez.