For as dominant as the pitching across baseball was in 1968, many fans who know the season just as a historical artifact retain two names from that season - and who can blame them?
Bob Gibson and Denny McClain each won their respective league's MVP award in "The Year of the Pitcher." McClain won 31 games and Gibson's ERA finished the season at 1.12. Then they faced off in the World Series, with McClain's Tigers winning in seven games.
Plenty of contenders
There was no full list of Cy Young voting back then - just a winner in each league. But you don't have to go very far down the MVP results to find pitchers who put up some of the best seasons in years when they weren't recognized with baseball's greatest pitching award. Dave McNally won 22 games with a 1.95 ERA for Baltimore. Louis Tiant posted a 1.60 ERA for the Indians en route to 21 wins. Juan Marichal won 26 times for the Giants in a season when no one even thought twice about giving the Cy Young to someone else.
Johnny Cueto has thrown more innings than any pitcher in baseball this season. He's basically maintained a WHIP under 1.00 from day one and won 18 games for a Cincinnati team that has scored the fourth-fewest runs in baseball. But the most unbelievable part about Cueto's 2014 may be how far removed he is from the Cy Young discussion.
Clayton Kershaw is rightfully on his way to a third Cy before he turns 27 behind a historically good season. But Cueto will finish with about as good a season as any pitcher who didn't go on to win the award in recent memory. Well, maybe except for Chris Sale.
Like Cueto in the NL, Sale has been ridiculous the lowly White Sox. He's lost just three times all year and joins Kershaw as the only starter in baseball with an ERA under 2.00. His 10.60 strikeouts per nine innings tops the AL and a 0.92 WHIP matches Felix Hernandez at the top of the league. The problem is, Sale doesn't pitch in a pennant race and, for whatever reason, people just really like Felix Hernandez better.
Thursday night dominance
The two Cy Young underdogs took the mound on Thursday for some day baseball. And both won 1-0 games against a pair of playoff hopefuls. Sale beat the Oakland A's with eight innings of two-hit ball, while Cueto gave up three hits in eight innings of his own to down the Cardinals. They combined to strike out a batter per inning.
So while people will vouch for their guy to get the attention he deserves, the reality is that it's just not possible in the type of season we're witnessing. Heck, there's Adam Wainwright and Corey Kluber too. And what would we have done if Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey and Masahiro Tanaka stayed healthy?
The Kershaw's will transcend time like the Gibson's and the McClain's. But that doesn't mean we have to forget the Tiant's and the Marichal's. It's not a bad thing that people like Felix Hernandez over than Chris Sale as much as it's an awesome thing that we're forced pick one.
So while many of these hurlers won't win the Cy Young with numbers that would have run away with it in many other seasons, they'll retain stories instead - bragging rights. They'll have legends about the year they pitched against guys with sub-2.00 ERA's; and we'll share them as fans who watched it - at least for as long as we remember.
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