Jayson Stark

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Tuesday, November 5
 
Hard-luck Schilling finishes second once again

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

Two months ago, Curt Schilling all but had his name engraved on the side of the Cy Young trophy. Tuesday, when the votes were counted, he didn't get a single first-place vote.

Nobody ever would have fathomed that on Labor Day. But in some ways, it's the story of Schilling's whole career.

He has, essentially, had three Cy Young seasons now. He just has had them in the wrong time, in the wrong place, for the wrong team or pitching alongside the wrong teammate.

Curt Schilling
Starting Pitcher
Arizona Diamondbacks
Profile
2002 SEASON STATISTICS
GM W-L IP BB K ERA
36 23-7 259.1 33 316 3.23

Before Schilling came along, how many pitchers do you think had ever had seasons in which they won 20 games, finished at least 16 games over .500 and piled up more than 290 strikeouts -- without getting a Cy Young out of the deal?

Uh, how about zero -- at least not since 1956, when the Cy Young came into existence.

But Curt Schilling now has had two of those seasons in a row. And not only does he not have any trophies to cart around as a souvenir -- he has gotten a grand total of two first-place votes in those two elections.

That's mostly Randy Johnson's fault, for being one of the most unhittable pitchers who ever lived. But in some other ways, especially this year, that's partly Schilling's fault, too.

As late as mid-September, he had two more wins than the Unit, their ERAs were within a quarter-run, and Schilling was still within reach of joining the Slim Sallee Memorial More Wins Than Walks Club.

Then, in a Sept. 15 start against the Brewers, Byung-Hyun Kim blew a save that would have wrapped up Schilling's 24th win. Schilling then gave up 17 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings in his final three trips to the mound. And Johnson rode a 5-0, 0.66 ERA September to the top of the vote charts.

In the end, the Unit deserved this award. Just as he deserved it last year. But our question is this: How will history regard the distinguished runner-up?

Schilling is only the fourth National League right-hander in the last 60 years to win 22 games or more in two straight seasons. You've heard of the others -- Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal and Robin Roberts.

Schilling is also only the fifth pitcher since 1917 to run off back-to-back seasons of at least 16 games over .500. The other four are Sandy Koufax, Hal Newhouser, Dizzy Dean and Lefty Grove. You can read more about their exploits on their plaques in Cooperstown.

It's funny we mention Cooperstown. Not that that will be Curt Schilling's ultimate baseball destination. But every year, he sure becomes a more viable candidate.

He's now up to 155 wins. He owns three 300-strikeout seasons. He's been in the top 10 in ERA seven times. He's been in the top five in strikeouts five times. He's been a postseason MVP in two different Octobers -- one of them as far back as 1993. So he's probably three more Schilling-esque seasons from injecting himself into serious Hall of Fame discussion.

When the time comes to hold that discussion, though, how many voters will say: "Yeah, but he never won a Cy Young Award?"

How many will notice that he has joined only Warren Spahn (1960-61) and Dan Quisenberry (1983-84) among pitchers who were Cy Young runners-up in back-to-back seasons?

How many voters will take a serious look at his 1997 season, when he struck out 317, won 17 games for a Phillies team that was compared for months with the '62 Mets, saw his bullpen blow four saves in his last 11 starts and had to pitch for a team that scored three runs or fewer for him 19 times?

Had he been with the Braves or Dodgers or even the Marlins back then, Schilling might have won a Cy Young that year, too. Instead, he finished fourth -- behind Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and Denny Neagle.

So in his three Cy Young-worthy seasons, Schilling has lost out to Pedro once and the Big Unit twice. That doesn't say Curt Schilling hasn't been a dominator. It just says he's the greatest runner-up since Alydar.

If anybody ever holds an election to decide the three best modern seasons not worth a Cy Young award, that's an election this guy can win.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.






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