Clemens and Stewart are great, but Welch's 25 won't be denied


Say Roger Clemens wins his last three starts to lift Boston to the AL East title. Say Dave Stewart finishes with his most impressive 20-win season. And say Bob Welch becomes the first pitcher in 11 years to reach the 25-victory plateau.

Who's your Cy Young?

The choice will not be easy if the above scenario plays itself out. Clemens and Stewart are worthy candidates who are deserving of the award. But since 1950, only eight AL pitchers have won 25 games. Welch can join that select group tonight.

After facing Detroit, he likely will make two more starts. That would give him a chance to earn the most victories by a major-league pitcher since Steve Carlton won 27 in 1972, and the most by an AL pitcher since Denny McLain won 31 in 1968.

Heady stuff, but even with all that, 25 would appear to be Welch's magic number. Only five of the eight AL pitchers to reach that figure in the last 40 years were voted the Cy Young. But in each of the other three cases, there were extenuating circumstances.

In 1974, Ferguson Jenkins lost to Jim "Catfish" Hunter, who had the exact same record and a better ERA. In 1971, Mickey Lolich lost to Vida Blue, who was spectacular in his first full season. And in 1966, Jim Kaat lost to Sandy Koufax, the year before each league began naming a Cy Young.

It can be argued that Clemens (20-6, 1.98) is more dominant than Welch (24-6, 3.04) -- Ron Guidry in 1978 was the last AL pitcher to finish with a sub-2.00 ERA. It also can be argued that Stewart (21-10, 2.67) is more valuable to Oakland, for he leads the AL with 249 innings pitched.

Still, 25 wins is 25 wins. Welch has a higher ERA than either Clemens or Stewart, but it still could fall below 3.00. The Orioles' Steve Stone won both 25 games and the Cy Young with a higher ERA (3.23) in 1980. Whitey Ford did the same (3.21) in 1961.

Clemens missed two starts with arm trouble when his team needed him most. Stewart has won 20 games four straight years, but each time, another pitcher has been better -- first Frank Viola, then Clemens, then Bret Saberhagen. Now, it's his own teammate. Welch for Cy Young.

* ON THE OTHER HAND: The Yankees' Tim Leary (9-19) is bidding to become the first 20-game loser in the majors since Brian Kingman went 8-20 for Oakland in 1980. What's more, he could be joined by Detroit's Jack Morris (12-18).

The fact that no one loses 20 anymore reflects the increased use of relief pitchers and the advent of five-man rotations. Before the '80s there were never fewer than 11 20-game losers in a decade. From 1900 to 1910, when men were men and pitchers went the distance, there were 64.

The last time two pitchers lost 20 in the same season was 1977 (Phil Niekro 16-20, Jerry Koosman 8-20). But 20 losses aren't necessarily the sign of a bad pitcher. More often than not, they are the sign of a pitcher on a bad team.

Randy Jones went 8-22 for San Diego in 1974, won the NL ERA title the next season and the Cy Young the year after that. Don Larsen went 3-21 for the Orioles in 1954 and pitched the only perfect game in World Series history two years later.

Nine Hall of Famers have had 20-loss seasons.

Most teams would take their chances with Leary or Morris.

* CECIL CORNER: Here's Detroit hitting coach Vada Pinson on the amazing Cecil Fielder: "He's doing this alone. He's gone beyond the Purple Heart. We were in the graveyard last year. Rigor mortis was setting us. He brought us out of the ground."

The most convincing argument for Fielder as MVP is not that he has hit 47 homers, but that he has singlehandedly revived the Detroit offense. Last year the Tigers finished 13th in the AL with 617 runs. This year they're second to Toronto with 711 -- nearly 100 more.

Of course, Rickey Henderson still might have the edge in the MVP race, but Kelly Gruber is another player who will merit consideration. Gruber batted .189 with three homers and 24 RBIs in July and August. But he's already 24-for-57 (.421) with four homers and 20 RBIs in September.

* RICKEY, RICKEY: Henderson needs only seven stolen bases to break Lou Brock's all-time record of 938, and the A's publicity department came up with a rap sheet similar to the one Texas produced last season when Nolan Ryan approached 5,000 strikeouts.

Naturally, the Orioles figure prominently on Henderson's hit list; Baltimore, in fact, has been his favorite robbery site, other than New York and Oakland, the two cities in which he has played. His Memorial Stadium total is 55. That's eight more than Boston has this season.

The Orioles rank fourth on Henderson's all-time list, but only four behind Minnesota at 79. His top three victims among catchers: Jim Sundberg (55), Ernie Whitt (46) and Carlton Fisk (39). Among pitchers: Floyd Bannister (16), Jack Morris (14) and the Orioles' Scott McGregor (13).

* MOST VALUABLE OR MOST VOLATILE? Milwaukee's Robin Yount batted .318 last season to win the AL MVP, but his average is down 77 points to .241. It's a decline worth noting as the Brewers open a three-game series tonight at Memorial Stadium.

Three former MVPs had greater dropoffs in average -- Roy Campanella, 105 points (.312-.207, 1953-54); Campanella, 99 (.318-.219, '55-56) and Willie McGee, 97 (.353-.256, '85-86). Yount could tie for fourth with Kirk Gibson (.290-.213, '88-89) and Orlando Cepeda (.325-.248, '67-68).

* THAT WACKY NL EAST: Montreal is in serious contention without a 12-game winner on its staff. St. Louis won in 1987 with three 11-game winners (Danny Cox, Bob Forsch, Greg Mathews). The Big Red Machine won three times in the '70s with no pitcher winning more than 15.

Then there's Pittsburgh. Bill Landrum leads the club with 13 saves, but has only one since the All-Star break. The last two pennant winners without 20-save relievers were the 1986 Red Sox (Bob Stanley, 16) and 1985 Cardinals (Jeff Lahti, 19).

* AROUND THE HORN: The most remarkable thing about Eddie Murray's .326 batting average is that it would represent a career-high -- his best mark for the Orioles was .316 in 1982. Murray also has 25 homers and 90 RBIs, his highest totals since 1987.

Good news for the Jays: The three Cleveland pitchers they face this weekend (John Farrell, Jeff Shaw and Charles Nagy) have combined for seven wins this season. The two Cleveland pitchers Boston faces next week (Greg Swindell and Tom Candiotti) have combined for 25.

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