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Detroit's Verlander named AL MVP

DETROIT — Justin Verlander is the American League's Most Valuable Player—the first starting pitcher to win the award in 25 years.

The Detroit Tigers right-hander beat out runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury of Boston and third-place Jose Bautista of Toronto, both outfielders, on Monday.

Verlander received 13 of the 28 first-place votes in the balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America. He was left off of one voter's ballot. Bautista got five first-place votes. Ellsbury, a former Oregon State standout, had four.

"Not even in my wildest dreams had I thought of this," Verlander said. "I want to say it's a dream come true. I can't say that, because my dream had already come true — it was winning the Cy Young. The next dream is to win a World Series."

Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera received two first-place votes and finished fifth overall, behind Curtis Granderson of the Yankees.

"I'm glad the writers acknowledged that (starting pitchers) have a major impact in this game and that we can be extremely valuable to our team and its success," Verlander said. "Obviously, you can't do it by yourself.

"I called Alex and Miggy (Cabrera) right away as soon as I found out and talked to those guys. I haven't had a chance to talk to the rest of my teammates yet, but they are all a part of this just as I am."

FoxSports.com baseball writer Jon Paul Morosi explained his vote for Verlander: "In the end, a position player is supposed to win the award except in cases of exceptional and historic years by a pitcher, and in my estimation, that is what Verlander had in 2011. It was one of the best pitching performances in multiple generations.

"What made him the MVP was the 16 wins after Tigers losses. According to Elias (Elias Sports Bureau), that was the most since Steve Carlton in '72 (with the Phillies). That's staggering. It's been nearly 40 years since we saw a stopper like this. When you talk about value to the team and impact on the division race, it's him. One of my favorite statistics about his season is that on the day he began his 12-start winning streak, the Indians and Tigers were tied atop the division. By the time it ended, the Tigers already had clinched."

Boston's Roger Clemens had been the most recent starting pitcher to win the MVP. He did so in 1986, when he went 24-4. Oakland's Dennis Eckersley was the last pitcher of any kind to win, doing so in 1992.

In the last 25 years, only one pitcher had come close to winning the MVP in either league: Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999.

Verlander went 24-5 this season. He won the most games by a pitcher in either league in nine years. He also led the American League in strikeouts (250) and ERA (2.40).

Verlander's MVP candidacy also was based on how, more than anyone else, he took the Tigers to the title in the American League Central. As the Central race remained close into August, Verlander kept the Tigers in or near first place by repeatedly winning, often after the Tigers had lost the previous game. Fittingly, the day after a late-inning loss, he won the game July 21 that put the Tigers in first place for good.

Verlander already had won this year's Cy Young Award, given to the league's best pitcher by the baseball writers. He received all 28 first-place votes for that honor. Different panels of writers vote for the Cy Young and MVP.

Verlander has now won the AL rookie of the year (2006), Cy Young and MVP. He is the second player in major league history to win all three awards, joining Don Newcombe who did so with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

"Other than 06 World Series, never been prouder to represent Detroit city of resilience and pride. DetroitPride," Verlander tweeted after the announcement. "Thank you to everyone — teammates, fans, baseball writers). DetroitPride (trend it — let's have some fun with this)."

Even as Verlander's MVP case grew stronger this season, some observers continued to insist that a starting pitcher shouldn't be eligible for the award.

Controversy always has been inherent in the MVP balloting because, as guidelines given the voters state, "There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team."

Jim Ingraham of The Herald-News in Ohio omitted Verlander from his ballot. He doesn't think pitchers should be eligible for MVP.

"I'd wrestled with this for a long time. If I was ever going to vote for pitcher for MVP, it would be him this year," Ingraham said. "He hasn't appeared in 79 percent of their games, any starting pitcher really doesn't appear in 79 percent of his team's games in a year.

"Would you vote for an NFL quarterback for MVP if he only appeared in three of his team's 16 games, which would 21 percent? So that's part of it. Another part of it is I think they're apples and oranges. The guys that are in there every day, there's a grind to a season that a starting pitcher doesn't, I don't think, experience the way the everyday position players do playing 150, 160 games."

In '99, Martinez went 23-4 and led the Red Sox to the playoffs. He finished a close second in the MVP voting to Texas catcher Pudge Rodriguez. Two of the 28 voters left Martinez off their 10-player ballot. If each of those two voters had put Martinez fourth or higher, he would have won.

Hitters long have been considered to have an edge over pitchers in the MVP voting because hitters play every day. The Tigers are the exception to this. They've now had four pitchers win the MVP since they last had a hitter win it.