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Justin Verlander, Sandy Alcantara are first unanimous Cy Young pair since 1968

Justin Verlander won his third Cy Young Award and his second in four years after going 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA and 185 strikeouts for the Astros. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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A year ago at this time, Justin Verlander was awarded only with uncertainty. He missed most of the 2020 season and the entire 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery so late in his career that anyone would temper expectations. He not only was gone from the field but removed from his team off it, further from the sport than at any point in two professional decades to that point.

Twelve months later, Verlander was named winner of the American League Cy Young Award, a fitting cap to a season in which the 39-year-old pitched to the lowest ERA of his major league career before winning a World Series title and earning his first individual World Series win. The award is Verlander’s third — his second in four years — and he spent one of those years away from the game entirely.

“It definitely carries a different meaning for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important than the other two. It shows that I’m at a different point in my life. I will always kind of remember this Cy Young as looking back at the growth of me as a father, as a person, and just also the rehab and all the hard work that went into the rehab,” Verlander said. “I was just so committed to it was going to go well and I was going to come back and be me.”

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On the National League side, Miami stalwart Sandy Alcantara took home his first Cy Young Award and became the first Marlins player to win it. Alcantara is the third native of the Dominican Republic to win the award, joining Bartolo Colon and Pedro Martinez. Martinez announced his countryman’s name on MLB Network as the winner of the award.

“That company right there, that makes this more and more special,” Alcantara said. “I feel so happy to be with those guys. Those guys are the mentors for me. I was watching Pedro, Bartolo, those guys on TV, and now I’m with them on that list.”

In an era of short starts and careful handling of starters’ workloads, Alcantara was something of a throwback, pitching at least seven innings in 22 of his 32 starts and throwing 23 more innings — or about three-plus starts’ worth — than the next most prolific starter. The 27-year-old threw six complete games, tied for most by a starter in the past decade. Only Verlander in 2012, Clayton Kershaw in 2014 and Chris Sale in 2016 tossed as many in a single season.

He was rewarded with all 30 first-place votes to become just the 15th unanimous winner in National League history. Verlander, who already had been a unanimous choice once with the Detroit Tigers in 2011, became the fourth American Leaguer to win unanimously twice.

The Cy Young Award dates back to 1956. Only once, in 1968, when Denny McLain and Bob Gibson won it, have both leagues seen unanimous winners.

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Alcantara not only pitched a lot, but he pitched well. His 2.28 ERA was fifth among qualified starters (Verlander’s 1.75 ERA led baseball). His 207 strikeouts were fourth in the National League. Alcantara is under the Marlins’ control through at least the 2026 season after he agreed to a deal that will pay him $56 million over five seasons.

Alcantara’s closest competition came from Atlanta Braves lefty Max Fried, who received 10 second-place votes. Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Julio Urías finished third. Verlander bested Chicago White Sox ace Dylan Cease, who received 14 second-place votes. Toronto Blue Jays righty Alek Manoah finished third. Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels finished fourth in the American League voting.

Verlander is a free agent, coming off a contract that paid him $25 million annually, and he probably is going to secure even more. He has won two Cy Young Awards and two World Series titles since he accepted a trade from the Tigers to the Astros midway through the 2017 season.

“I’m not one to focus on the rearview mirror. It’s nice to take moments like this award and this championship we won this year and really take a beat and really appreciate it. But you’re always looking forward,” Verlander said. “I haven’t spoken to [Astros owner Jim Crane] since the last time we spoke. He texted me he wants to be involved going forward, and I don’t know what the future holds. I’ve kind of committed to myself that we are on this journey and this journey has been nothing short of incredible with the Astros.”