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How the landslide started

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2001

Some of us actually worried they'd split enough ballots to cancel each other out.

What a waste of time that turned out to be.

Randy Johnson mowed down Arizona Diamondbacks teammate Curt Schilling in voting for the National League Cy Young Award announced Tuesday. The Big Unit received 30 of 32 first-place votes.

An election that should have been close was a landslide. But not necessarily for the right reason (more on that later).

Nobody denies that Johnson is a deserving winner.

Just not that much more deserving.

Unfortunately, it's not the kind of thing Schilling can say -- even assuming he believes it. Because who knows? The Baseball Writers' Association of America might decide to take back his two first-place votes and give those to Johnson, too. For whatever reason, he took the news graciously.

''This should be about Randy winning it, not me losing it,'' Schilling told ESPN Radio. ''I feel from opening day to the finish, I was the most consistent pitcher in baseball. ... Was that good enough to win the Cy Young? Not this year.''

Schilling and Johnson formed one of the best starting pitching tandems ever. The back and forth of trying to separate their seasons can make you dizzy.

Schilling had one more win (22-21; both lost 6).

Johnson had the best ERA in the major leagues (2.49 vs. Schilling's 2.98).

Schilling completed twice as many games (6-3).

Johnson led in shutouts (2-1).

Schilling got tagged for twice as many home runs (37-19).

Johnson walked nearly twice as many batters (71-39).

And now for the number that probably influenced way too many voters: Johnson had 372 strikeouts, the third-best total ever; Schilling fanned only (only) 293.

But think about this: Arizona manager Bob Brenly risked serious heat for setting up his postseason roster to give Schilling -- not Johnson -- the maximum number of starts. He must have known something.

If you believe the old baseball saw about momentum being only as good as the next day's pitcher, what Brenly's move said is that forced to choose, he turns the baseball over to Schilling.

This is what Brenly knew: The most important starts in the regular season are the ones that follow losses, especially for a team with championship ambitions. It's a chance to take some heat off your hitters and save the bullpen wear and tear. In those games, Johnson was exceptional. He was 9-2 in 16 starts, with a 2.15 ERA. He struck out 177 and walked only 31.

But Schilling was even better. He was 13-1 in 17 starts, with a 1.72 ERA. He fanned 155 and walked only 16.

There are even more comparisons, but you get the point.

If ever there was a year for a tie -- and there's precedent for that -- this was it.

If not a tie, then at least a squeaky close election. Instead, we get an awkward 30-2 rout that leaves one guy offering a verbal hug as consolation.

''I know Curt's happy for me,'' Johnson said. ''I talked to him earlier today. He was calling me to thank me for getting him to this next level where's he at. I thought that was the most flattering comment I've received to this point in my career.''

Exactly who taught whom might be worth debating some other time, but that's beside the point. Reasonable people are supposed to disagree reasonably about precisely this kind of stuff. That didn't happen. Whenever there's this much agreement, it's time to investigate.

The guess here is that Johnson's bulging strikeout totals skewed the result. Most of Arizona's games were played in the West, cut up into headline and bite-sized clips and shipped east for consumption early the next day. All those ''K'' signs taped to the stadium railings made for good pictures.

Plus, Johnson fricasseed a pigeon early in the year -- who can forget that video? -- and flambeed one overmatched NL lineup after another the rest of the way.

Schilling did his business with less fanfare. The only splash was a perfect game ruined by a bunt. All the others yielded were shots of Schilling staring over the rim of his mitt, out from beneath the bill of his cap, at another team that couldn't decide which one of the two it would rather see less.

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org



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