Perhaps it was that last start that did him in. And boosted C.C. Sabathia. With 20 wins to his credit already, Josh Beckett took the mound for his final start of the regular season. He didn't distinguish himself, allowing five runs on 10 hits against the Minnesota Twins. He lost. The next day, Sabathia beat Kansas City, giving up three runs in seven innings and earning his 19th win.
"There's two ways to approach this," Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said by phone, reacting to the announcement that Sabathia had taken the American League Cy Young Award yesterday. "First, I thought he had a chance to win the award. I thought the numbers and the overall performance of C.C. started to create a little separation between he and Josh as the regular season came to a close.
"I really think looking at the final start of the season for both, in which C.C. won, Josh lost, might have sealed the voting. Had it been 21 wins vs. 18, you have a greater gap in terms of overall wins. But you can't take away from the year C.C. had."
And then, not long after Farrell had hung up, he called back. He had a point he wanted to emphasize.
"In my mind," he said, "[Beckett] is the Cy Young."
But not in the minds of enough voters. Sabathia, not Beckett, got the call telling him he had won the award. It was a race that was expected to be close but, in the end, wasn't. Sabathia took 19 first-place votes to Beckett's eight, leaving him the winner with 119 points to 86. Anaheim's John Lackey finished third with 36.
"Initial reaction was I was excited," said Sabathia on a conference call. "My family and everybody were around. My mom. It was just a lot of excitement. That's all I can say.
"I was surprised, Beckett had a great year and an even better postseason, so going in I didn't know what to expect. I was just pleased to know I won."
But more surprising than Sabathia's win, or Beckett's second-place finish, was the decision by three members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to leave either Sabathia or Beckett off their ballots.
Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News and Jorge Ortiz of USA Today each listed Sabathia, Lackey (the AL ERA leader at 3.01), and the Indians' Fausto Carmona on their ballots, while Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News omitted Sabathia, listing Beckett, Carmona, and the Twins' Johan Santana.
In all, eight pitchers received votes, with Sabathia, Beckett, and Lackey the only ones to get first-place votes. Sabathia earned eight second-place votes, with Beckett taking 14 second-place nods and four for third place.
Sabathia had a 19-7 record, a 3.21 ERA, and 241 innings pitched, which led the AL. He also recorded 209 strikeouts. Beckett was the first pitcher in two years to record 20 wins, with a record of 20-7 and a 3.27 ERA.
Beckett far outshined Sabathia in the postseason, in which they were matched up head-to-head twice in the American League Championship Series; but voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America is done at the end of the regular season. So Sabathia's 1-2 record and 8.80 ERA in three postseason games (15 1/3 innings) did not factor in. Neither did Beckett's 4-0 record and 1.20 ERA over four starts and 30 innings.
Efforts were unsuccessful to reach Beckett, who attended last night's Lakers-Spurs game in San Antonio.
Beckett made vast improvements from his first year with the Red Sox. After giving up 36 home runs in a 16-11 season with a 5.01 ERA, Beckett lowered his home run number to 17 in 2007. He also lowered his walks from 74 to 40.
In his second season in the AL, Beckett modified his pitching, getting away from an overreliance on fastballs to demonstrate an improved changeup and curveball. He started the season 9-0 before suffering his first loss June 14 against Colorado.
"First and foremost, he learned from his experiences in '06, coming to a new league, facing hitters he had never seen before," Farrell said. "It can be human nature to [try to] validate a trade. Ultimately sometimes it causes a player to try to do too much.
"I can't say that was what took place in '06, but in comparison in the two years he learned from those experiences and was open-minded to really incorporate his secondary pitches more so than he did a year ago. And the ability to be unpredictable gave him the ability to be confident on the mound."
With the award likely coming down to Sabathia or Beckett, Sabathia took the time to research the numbers last week. He checked out his competition and determined that he certainly had a shot at his first Cy Young Award. He learned yesterday that he was right in his assessment.
"I had a lot of people talking about how I had a chance," said Sabathia. "I did look at a few numbers. I think with Beckett it could have gone either way. I'm just happy and thankful that it went my way."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.