MLB denied 20-game winner in '09
Sabathia, Wainwright fall short in bid for milestone
For only the second time in modern Major League Baseball history -- and the second time in four years -- a full regular season will go into the books without a 20-game winner.
CC Sabathia of the Yankees and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals each was denied Friday night in his bid for a 20th victory. They are the only present 19-game winners, and there are only two days left in the regular season, so no pitcher will reach what once was a standard milestone.
Sabathia's bid for a 20th win was dealt an early blow Friday when the Rays scored four unearned runs in the first inning. The lefty ended up tying a career high by allowing nine runs (five earned) in 2 2/3 innings in the Yankees' 13-4 loss.
"It's tough to go out there and pitch for individual things, you know," Sabathia said. "I just wanted to go out, have a good outing and keep the run to the playoffs. It was just one of those tough nights, and I'm ready to bounce back."
Sabathia finishes the regular season with a 19-8 record and is slated to be the Yankees' Game 1 starter in the American League Division Series against the Tigers or Twins. Manager Joe Girardi did not appear concerned about Sabathia's struggles Friday.
"I think CC went out there thinking, 'Let's pitch another good game,' and it just didn't happen," Girardi said. "He just didn't have command of his fastball. For whatever reason, it wasn't there tonight. I don't think too much of it."
Wainwright was saddled with a no-decision when the Brewers rallied against the Cardinals' bullpen for a 12-6 victory. Like Sabathia, Wainwright ended up with a 19-8 record.
"This is right there with the most disappointing, toughest regular-season losses that I can remember," manager Tony La Russa said. "It was an important win for us if we can get it with what was at stake. Adam has been so great all year long. I'm really, really disappointed."
Wainwright appeared to be well on his way to win No. 20 with the Cardinals leading the Brewers, 6-1, after six innings. After the first two batters reached against Wainwright in the seventh, he was pulled at 90 pitches with a playoff start looming next week.
"I could taste it," Wainwright said of the 20th victory. "And that may be why the first two guys got on, I got a little ahead of myself there. I started thinking a little too far forward I think. We win that game 99 times out of 100. Our bullpen has been great this year and I pride myself on not giving away leads. I'll take my chances with a six-run lead all day."
In 2006, Johan Santana, then with the Twins, and Chien-Ming Wang of the Yankees each topped the American League at 19 wins while six National League pitchers tied for the lead with just 16.
Three exceptions were in 1981, 1994 and 1995, seasons shortened due to labor strife. In 1981, Tom Seaver of the Reds led the NL with 14 wins, while four pitchers had the same total to lead the AL. In 1994, Jimmy Key of the Yankees led the Majors by winning 17 decisions while Ken Hill of Montreal and Greg Maddux of the Braves shared the NL lead at 16. In 1995, Mike Mussina of the Orioles and Maddux led their leagues with 19 apiece during a 144-game schedule. Last season, Brandon Webb of the D-backs and Cliff Lee, then with the Indians, each led his league with 22 wins.
The last hurler to win at least 30 was Denny McLain for Detroit in 1968. The 20-win season used to be common for the best starting pitchers each year, but the emergence of specialized relievers -- not just the closer, but one or two setup men -- along with expanded rotations and pitch counts has resulted in fewer complete games and now fewer 20-game winners.
It also is worth noting that one pitcher who just may seal a Cy Young Award bid on Saturday -- Zack Greinke of the Royals -- has won 16 games and likely would have won more if not for the fact he pitches for a last-place team. Greinke, who leads the Majors with a 2.06 ERA and also ranks among the leaders with 237 strikeouts, tries to finish with No. 17 in a start that could eliminate the Twins from AL Central contention at the Metrodome.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.