Verlander is the fourth in franchise history to take home the award

​Justin Verlander wins the 2019 AL Cy Young Award

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After a close race with teammate Gerrit Cole, the MLB announced on Wednesday that the winner of the 2019 American League Cy Young Award is Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros. He beat out the two other finalists, Gerrit Cole, who placed second, and Charlie Morton, who finished third. Verlander received 17 first-place votes to Gerrit Cole's 13.

Getting better with age

Verlander had one of the best seasons of his storied career in 2019, posting new bests in strikeouts (300) and WHIP (0.803) en route to a 21-6 record over 34 starts and 223 innings pitched, the most of anyone in the majors. Of qualified starters in the AL, Verlander's 2.58 ERA was second, eight points behind Gerrit Cole, who finished with a 2.50 and fourth-best in the entire league.

He had two complete games over the course of 2019, the first coming on August 21st against his former team, the Detroit Tigers. He would lose that game, allowing two earned runs in a 2-1 loss. Two starts later, Verlander had arguably his signature moment of the year, posting his other complete game, his third career no-hitter in Toronto against the Blue Jays on September 1st in a 2-0 victory.

A year of milestones

Not only was 2019 a successful year in itself for Verlander, but it also boosted his numbers as he continues to climb up the leaderboard of the game's best hurlers, ever. Now at 225 wins, Verlander sits alone at 70th on the all-time list, which will make him the highest active player on the list with CC Sabathia's retirement (Sabathia sits at 251, tied for 47th). In terms of career WAR (Wins Above Replacement), he now sits at 71.4, the highest active player, and ranked number 30 all-time.

Also, Verlander reached strikeout number 3,000 of his career this year, finishing the regular season with 3,006. That moved him to number 18 on the list as he advanced several spots by way of his 300 on the season. Most notably, he passed Cy Young himself, who moves down to number 22 with 2,803 with Verlander passing him and taking over as the top active player on the list with Sabathia's retirement. Sabathia sits 16th with 3,093; a number Verlander will in all likelihood pass next year as he marches up the list.

This is Verlander's second Cy Young, with the first coming in his 2011 MVP season with the Tigers. He's finished second three times, most recently in 2018 behind Blake Snell. He becomes just the fourth player in franchise history to take home the honor, joining Mike Scott in 1986, Roger Clemens in 2004, and Dallas Keuchel in 2015.

With two years left under contract, the Astros will have the benefit of watching the future Hall of Famer continue to accrue awards and accolades and rise up all-time leaderboards. While it didn't happen in 2019, they will also hope to have him be the ace of a World Series-winning rotation again as they did in 2017.

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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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