Guaranteed Rate Field was abuzz on Aug. 16 with the starting pitchers as the center of the attention.
Dylan Cease took the mound for the Chicago White Sox, squaring off against Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander.
Many figured then that the two would finish near the top of the American League Cy Young Award voting. That turned out to be the case, with Verlander winning the award Wednesday and Cease placing second.
Verlander had 210 points and Cease 97 in voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Alek Manoah of the Toronto Blue Jays was third with 87 points.
“It’s one of those things that really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Cease said after the announcement. “Growing up, it’s hard to imagine even being in that position. I really loved and watched baseball a lot, so to be sitting here now it really is surreal.”
Miami Marlins right-hander Sandy Alcantara won the NL award. Alcantara, 27, beat out the Atlanta Braves’ Max Fried and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Julio Urías.
It marked just the second time that both Cy Young winners were unanimous. Bob Gibson and Denny McLain also won unanimously in 1968.
Cease, 26, had shown signs of success since being called up by the Sox in July 2019. He put it all together in 2022, going 14-8 with a 2.20 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 32 starts.
Verlander went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA in 28 starts. It’s his third Cy Young Award, having won in 2011 with the Detroit Tigers and 2019 with the Astros.
Verlander led the AL in wins, ERA, WHIP (0.83) and opponents average (.186).
The Sox have three Cy Young Award winners: Early Wynn (1959), LaMarr Hoyt (1983) and Jack McDowell (1993). Cease’s finish is the highest by a White Sox pitcher since Esteban Loaiza also was second in 2003. Lance Lynn finished third in 2021.
Cease was second in the AL in ERA, strikeouts and opponents’ average (.190) and third in strikeouts per nine innings (11.1). His strikeout total ranks eighth in Sox history, and the 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings is the fifth-highest ratein team history.
He reached double-digits in strikeouts four times, including a career-high 13 against the Baltimore Orioles on June 26 at Guaranteed Rate. He reached nine strikeouts four other times.
“It was big,” Cease said of his breakout season. “A lot of years of effort and some failures and some successes. (It) really all came together and by far it was my most consistent year I’ve ever had as a professional.
“To show that upward trajectory and continue to improve is the name of the game. Now it’s maintaining that and continuing to show up and do what needs to be done.”
Cease went at least six innings while allowing just one hit in four games. He struck out 11 while allowing one hit in seven innings May 2 against the Los Angeles Angels and had 11 strikeouts in six one-hit innings June 21 against the Blue Jays. Cease struck out eight in seven one-hit innings July 17 at Minnesota.
And on Sept. 3 he lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning against the Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field. Cease allowed the one hit while going the distance, striking out seven and walking two in the 13-0 victory.
Cease was the AL Pitcher of the Month in June and July, becoming the first in franchise history to win the award twice in the same season.
He had a stretch of 14 starts from May 29 to Aug. 11 in which he allowed one earned run or none, becoming the first major-league starter (not counting openers) since 1913 to accomplish the feat. Cease allowed six earned runs in 82 innings (0.66 ERA) and struck out 103 during that span.
The streak ended in the Aug. 16 game against the Astros when he allowed three runs in five innings. Verlander allowed three runs in seven innings, and neither pitcher factored in the decision.
“A stretch like that is really remarkable,” Cease said. “In the midst of it I was really just focused on continuing to try to bring out my best every time, and that’s where it ended up taking me. Really was something special.”
Cease allowed one earned run or none 23 times, tying Wilbur Wood (1972) for the most in Sox history in a single season and the most by a major-league starter (not counting openers) since Blake Snell’s 23 with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018.
“At the end of the day, I want to continue to produce for my team,” Cease said. “That’s the biggest thing. I want to take the ball ever five days and I want to go out and put up a quality start every time.”