CLEVELAND -- It was somehow fitting that the season ende on the same night for Mike Devereaux and Mike Mussina.
From their first appearances to their last, these two players dominated the scene for the Orioles this year. And their often-spectacular contributions have promoted strong candidacies for the American League's highest individual honors the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards.
The lack of name recognition will hurt their chances, but Devereaux and Mussina have earned a ranking among the league's elite.
In a perfect year, they would've concluded their seasons in today's final game, with the Orioles completing a remarkable turnaround by winning the AL East. But this was merely a very good year that lacked a perfect ending.
That is especially true for Devereaux, who needs surgery on his left thumb, the result of a diving catch he made in the 10th inning Thursday night -- to help secure Mussina's 18th victory. "We can only be thankful that it's not July," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said when he heard the news.
Last week, Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson supported Devereaux for MVP. "He did something that's unheard of," said Anderson. "Nobody drives in that many runs  batting second. In 23 years of managing [in the big leagues], I've never seen anything close to that."
The numbers posted by Devereaux -- a .276 average, 24 home runs, 303 total bases and 107 RBI -- compare favorably with the top all-purpose hitters in the AL. When his occasionally spectacular defense and the Orioles' strong showing are added to the mix, a solid MVP candidate emerges.
Devereaux said he is flattered by Anderson's evaluation of his season, and appreciative of whatever MVP consideration he might get. "It's very satisfying to get that kind of recognition," he said. "But I don't get all the credit for the RBI -- that's a tribute to the guys in front of me.
"Brady [Anderson] has had an exceptional year, and the guys at the bottom of the lineup have done a good job getting on base. All you have to do is look at the number of times I batted with the bases loaded , to see what they did. Other people have to do their job if you're going to drive in a lot of runs."
Devereaux cemented his MVP candidacy in those 28 appearances. He went 13-for-24 with four sacrifice flies and 38 RBI. The 13 hits were the most with the bases loaded since the Elias Sports Bureau started tracking the statistic in 1975.
A close look at Mussina's first full season in the big leagues reveals equally strong credentials among the Cy Young candidates. Oates said he is convinced they are good enough to lead the pack.
"I continue to say what I've been saying all along -- that he [Mussina] matches up with anybody in baseball this year," said Oates. "I guess I'm allowed to be prejudiced, because I've seen every inning he's pitched.
"There may have been games, or innings, where others have been more overpowering -- but it's hard for me to believe anybody has been more consistent than Mike this year. He won't have 20 wins, maybe because he missed those two starts when he was sick, but he's in the top five in just about every category."
Mussina's strongest credentials are the best winning percentage the league (18-5, .783) and the third-best ERA (2.54). He's also tied for second with four shutouts, seventh with eight complete games and tied for eighth with 241 innings.
None of the league's three 20-game winners (Jack McDowell, Kevin Brown and Jack Morris) can match Mussina's overall numbers, which leaves Roger Clemens (18-11) as the strongest challenger. The Boston right-hander made it a race when he lost his last three decisions -- and missed his last two starts because of a groin injury.
Clemens has a slight edge over Mussina in a couple of areas -- he will lead the league with a 2.41 ERA and five shutouts -- but he doesn't outmatch Mussina in any of the key categories. The one dominant statistic that will weigh heavily in Clemens' favor is that he compiled his numbers while pitching for a last-place team.
"You can't discount Roger's numbers," said Oates. "Everybody knows he's been the most overpowering pitcher in the league ever since he's been here.
"But the thing about Mussina that is amazing to me is his consistency -- not just from game to game, but inning to inning. I have a hard time believing anybody has been more consistent than he has."
The numbers support Oates' contention. Mussina has allowed an average of only 9.8 base runners per nine innings -- the lowest figure in the league.
"I thought he deserved to win it [the Cy Young Award] even before he won his 18th game," said Oates. "And now I believe it even more.
"The thing about Mike is that not once did I have to stretch him to get innings. In fact, there were times that I took him out when I didn't have to.
"Just about every time he went out there, you could count on seven or eight innings. I've been saying it all year, and I'll say it again -- the most amazing thing about Mike has been his consistency, especially considering his limited experience."
Mussina, who finished with a seven-game winning streak, pitched at least into the seventh inning in 27 of his 32 starts -- and into the eighth 22 times. That's the statistic that most impresses the 23-year-old, who does not give the appearance of being easily impressed.
"I thought I pitched pretty good when I was up here last year," said Mussina, "and I took one-quarter of a run off my ERA and was still able to pitch into the seventh or eighth inning just about every game. Looking back, I couldn't have expected to do this good."
He is not overly optimistic about his Cy Young chances, but he does have some hope. "I just want to get some votes," Mussina said. "At least then they'll know I'm around."
It's safe to say that neither Mussina nor Devereaux needs postseason votes to make people aware of his presence. Their numbers have taken care of that.
The MVP contenders
Player ... ... ... Team ... ... ... Team pos. ... Avg. ... .. HR ... RBI
Joe Carter ... ... ... Blue Jays .. ... 1 ... ... ... .263 ... ... 33 ... 117
Dave Winfield .. .. .. Blue Jays .. ... 1 ... ... ... .291 ... ... 26 ... 107
Paul Molitor ... .. .. Brewers .. .. .. 2 ... ... ... .321 ... ... 12 ... 89
Cecil Fielder .. .. .. Tigers ... .. .. 6 ... ... ... .246 ... ... 35 ... 124
Frank Thomas ... .. .. White Sox ... .. 3 ... ... ... .323 ... ... 24 ... 114
Mike Devereaux ... ... Orioles .. .. .. 3 ... ... ... .276 ... ... 24 ... 107
Stats through Friday's games Pitcher ... ... ... ... ... Team ... ... ... W-L ... ERA ... SO ... Sv
Dennis Eckersley ... ... ... ... Athletics .. ... 7-1 ... 1.91 .. 93 ... 51
Roger Clemens .. ... ... ... ... Red Sox .. .. .. 18-11 .. 2.41 .. 208 .. 0
Jack Morris ... ... ... .. .. .. Blue Jays ... .. 21-6 ... 4.04 .. 132 .. 0
Jack McDowell .. .. ... .. .. .. White Sox ... .. 20-9 ... 3.13 .. 170 .. 0
Kevin Brown ... ... ... .. .. .. Rangers .. .. .. 20-11 .. 3.29 .. 168 .. 0
Mike Mussina .. ... ... .. .. .. Orioles .. .. .. 18-5 ... 2.54 .. 130 .. 0
Stats through Friday's games