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Verlander, Alcantara bag CY Young plums

LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander won a third Major League Baseball Cy Young Award on Wednesday, adding further gloss to a championship season in the wake of career-threatening elbow surgery.

“I’ve just really tried to enjoy this ride and just be very present and appreciate every moment, because it was almost taken away from me,” Verlander, 39, said on the MLB Network broadcast announcing the awards.

Verlander won the award for the top pitcher in the American League with all 30 first-place votes in balloting of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America conducted at the end of the regular season.

The National League Cy Young went to the Miami Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara, from the Dominican Republic, who also received all 30 first-place votes.

It’s the first time since 1968 that the winners of both the AL and NL Cy Young Awards were unanimous selections.

Verlander won Cy Young Awards in 2011 with the Detroit Tigers and in 2019 with the Astros.

But he was an unknown quantity coming into 2022 after pitching just six innings since that 2019 triumph.

He missed all of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament surgery and became the first pitcher to win the Cy Young having pitched zero innings the previous year.

Verlander told MLB Network that a “positive mindset” was the key to his triumphant return.

“In talking to all the doctors who were out there, the return to previous form (after surgery) — there was an 89 percent chance of that,” he said.

“My previous form was 2019 — I won the Cy Young that year,” said Verlander, who added that his ability to recover from a different surgery in 2014 boosted his confidence.

“Once I picked up a ball it felt remarkably just normal,” he said.

“From there all the way through my rehab I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

Verlander became the 11th pitcher to win three Cy Youngs, leading the AL with 18 wins and a Major League-best 1.75 earned-run average — the lowest by an AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez’ 1.74 in 2000.

His performance on the mound helped the Astros reach the World Series for the fourth time in six seasons and they beat the Phillies in six games in baseball’s championship showcase.

NL winner Alcantara, who logged an MLB-high 228 2/3 innings — 23 2/3 more than any other pitcher — and pitched six complete games for the Marlins.

That was the most complete games in the major leagues in six years and more than any other team had in the season.

The 27-year-old Dominican threw eight or more innings in 14 of his 32 starts, and he delivered quality as well as quantity.

Alcantara finished the season with an earned run average of 2.28, with 207 strikeouts, both ranking in the top five in the NL.

Alcantara, the first Marlin to win the award, was arguably at his most devastating in the late innings.

His 98.6 mph four-seam fastball in the eighth inning or later was the eighth-highest average velocity in MLB in those innings, his 98.6 mph sinker tied for fourth highest and his 92.5 mph changeup was the highest.

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