Clemens will pick off Cy Young Award, even without 20 victories

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For some reason, there is the mistaken impression around baseball circles that there is a weak field for the American League Cy Young Award.

This, of course, is ridiculous.

There also is the mistaken impression that there is no clear-cut front-runner for the AL half of baseball's most coveted pitching trophy.

This also is ridiculous.

It is true that there will be no surplus of 20-game winners in either league, but the pertinent statistics tell a very simple story.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens will win the Cy Young, even though he probably will finish a victory or two shy of the magical 20. The rest of his resume overwhelms the rest of the field, but a weak field it is not.

True, there were three 20-game winners last year, including 27-game winner Bob Welch, but there were only six pitchers with 18 victories or more. This year, there could be as many as nine pitchers with 18 victories when the season is over.

The best of the rest:

* Minnesota Twins 19-game-winner Scott Erickson, who had the Cy Young wrapped up until someone insisted that second-half statistics be included in the evaluation process.

* Jim Abbott and Mark Langston, who have won 17 games each for the second-division California Angels and each have sub-3.50 ERAs.

* Chicago White Sox ace Jack McDowell, whose 15 complete games lead the league, but whose 3.44 ERA is more than a run higher than Clemens'.

* Detroit Tigers right-hander Bill Gullickson, who has won 19 games despite giving up an average of almost four earned runs per nine innings.

Clemens rises to the top on the strength of his league-leading 2.38 ERA, but his superiority doesn't stop there. He also is the league leader in strikeouts (217) shutouts (four) and innings (248 1/3 ).

It seems like a pretty clear choice, even if there isn't a 27-game winner this year.

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Unkindest cut of all department: Angels second baseman Luis Sojo became the first casualty of an Operation Desert Storm pre-game celebration last week, when teammate Lance Parrish accidentally slashed Sojo's hand with a ceremonial bayonet.

The bayonets had been awarded to Wally Joyner and Abbott for the moral support they gave Desert Storm families during the Persian Gulf war.

Sojo suffered deep gashes in his left thumb and right little finger when he overreacted to a playful attack by Parrish in the Angels clubhouse. He was fortunate that he did not suffer tendon damage, but he will be lost for the remainder of the season nonetheless.

The Angels second baseman tried to cover for Parrish by telling reporters he cut his hands on a broken drinking glass, but a remorseful Parrish freely admitted his responsibility for the injury.

It may have been the unkindest cut of an unkind season, but it was not the first time an Angels player has been in stitches with a less-than-reasonable explanation. In the early 1980s, veteran pitcher Dave Goltz had to be removed from the Angels starting rotation after he cut his pitching hand on a toilet-paper dispenser.

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Rumor of the week: The word about Anaheim Stadium is that new senior vice president Whitey Herzog has been given carte blanche to build a world championship team. There has been speculation that the Angels will make a major play for Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bobby Bonilla if he becomes a free agent and will spend whatever it takes to keep Joyner (another potential free agent) in an Angels uniform. Not that the Angels were ever hesitant to open the vault for an attractive player. They made Langston the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history after the 1989 season and signed third baseman Gary Gaetti to a $10 million free-agent contract last winter.

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Here's another interesting Cal Ripken stat, courtesy of baseball writer Vern Plagenhoff of Booth Newspapers:

Ripken is batting .325 with 32 home runs, 110 RBI and 40 strikeouts. If he finishes the season with with fewer than 49 strikeouts, there will be only one active player -- Don Mattingly -- who has hit at least .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBI in a season and struck out fewer times.

Mattingly had three seasons (1985-87) in which he reached the benchmark plateaus in the Triple Crown categories and struck out 41 times or fewer, including a 1986 season that included the lowest strikeout total (35) of any active player in the .300-30-100 club. George Brett has the next fewest strikeouts in a .300-30-100 season, with 49 in 1985.

There are only nine active players who have had .300-30-100 seasons with fewer than 100 strikeouts -- Mattingly (1985-87), Eddie Murray (1980-82, 1983), Brett (1985), George Bell (1986-87), Dave Parker (1978, 1985), Dwight Evans (1987), Ryne Sandberg (1990), Barry Bonds (1990) and Pedro Guerrero (1982).

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Cleveland Indians pitcher Greg Swindell has 29 walks in 232 innings this year and two in his past 36 innings.

"My goal is to keep my walks under 30, so if I fall behind on the count, you'll see me throw it right over the middle of the plate," Swindell said recently. "This late in the year, you have to think of personal things."

That might be true of a player going for some kind of recognized plateau or record, but who is going to remember a year from now whether Swindell had 29 walks or 39? Certainly not as many as will remember that he was one of the losingest pitchers in the majors this year, with a 9-14 record.

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Tigers manager Sparky Anderson can't help but be disappointed his team's recent collapse, even though the club was not expected to be anywhere near the top of the AL East standings this year.

"I thought we were pulling off the coup of coups," Anderson said. "If we'd have done it, it would have been a tremendous thing for all of baseball. This was a year to steal it. It wasn't going to take 30 games over [.500] or 25 games over."

The Tigers might have been in position to pull a major divisional upset if they had not lost 17 of 25 games after they moved into a tie for first place on Aug. 26. In those next 25 games, the usually homer-happy Tigers scored three runs or fewer 14 times.

But it isn't as if there won't be a surprise team or two playing in the postseason tournament. The Twins, who were supposed to finish about sixth in the AL West, will be there, and so might the Atlanta Braves, who have come out of nowhere to challenge the

Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.

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Trivia quiz: Baltimore Orioles outfielder Joe Orsulak recently set club record for outfield assists and continues to lead the major leagues in that department. But Orsulak, who has 21, is closer to the modern major-league record for the fewest assists by a full-time outfielder than he is to the record for the most assists. Who holds those two records?

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Cleveland outfielder Albert Belle almost became the fourth player to hit a ball over the left-field roof at Tiger Stadium on Tuesday, but the shot hit the light standard and bounced back into the park.

Only Cecil Fielder, Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard have hit fair balls all the way out on that side of the stadium, and Belle's blast off Tigers pitcher Scott Aldred was hit hard enough to put him in the club.

"That was one," said Tigers infielder Tony Phillips. "That's something Scott can be proud of."

Catcher Mickey Tettleton was within earshot of Phillips, and begged to differ.

"Scott?" he said. "I'm proud of it. That's the farthest one I've ever called."

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More subliminal advertising: The Orioles need to beef up their outfield run production next year (Danny Tartabull) if they want -- to make the first season in their new stadium (Camden Yards) a big success. The club could also use another starting pitcher (Kirk McCaskill) to avoid another pitching collapse (Olympic Stadium) and ensure a competitive season. This might be a bitter pill for fiscally conservative Orioles owner Eli Jacobs (spend wildly), but it will make those long August evenings a little more pleasant for the fans (fat cats) who paid a $500 surcharge for their club-level seats.

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Gullickson has a chance to be the first pitcher in 21 years to win games with an ERA of 4.00 or more. That hasn't happened since Jim Merritt went 20-12 with a 4.08 ERA for the Cincinnati Reds in 1970. It hasn't happened in the American League since Billy Hoeft went 20-14 with a 4.06 ERA in 1956.

Gullickson has 19 victories and a 3.94 ERA. He'll get at least one more start this year.

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Trivia answer: The modern record for most assists by an outfielder in a season was set in 1930, when the Philadelphia Phillies' Chuck Klein had 44. The record for fewest assists by an outfielder who appeared in 150 games or more is held by Hall of Famer Killebrew, who appeared in 157 games in the outfield for the Twins in 1964 and made one assist.

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