NEW YORK — When the phone rang, Zack Greinke let it go — he didn’t recognize the number. Only after listening to the voice mail did he call back and find out he’d won the American League Cy Young Award.
The Kansas City Royals ace easily beat out Felix Hernandez for the honour Tuesday after a spectacular season short on wins but long on domination. Winning left the extremely shy Greinke with mixed emotions.
“Back in Orlando, I haven’t really got a whole lot of attention from people, which has been nice,” he said. “So I hope it doesn’t get that way, where everyone is like, ‘Oh, hey, Zack, hi.”’
He’d prefer to remain anonymous when he’s not on the mound. He’s not looking forward to being introduced at banquets as “Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke” for the rest of his life.
“In that way, it’s kind of like a negative for me,” he said.
It’s been quite a turnaround for Greinke, who led the AL in losses in 2005 and quit baseball for six weeks the following year after being diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder.
Greinke went 16-8 with a major league-low 2.16 ERA this season and received 25 of 28 first-place votes and three seconds for 134 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Hernandez, 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA for the Seattle Mariners, drew two firsts, 23 seconds and one third for 80 points.
“I thought it was going to be real close between the two of us,” Greinke said.
Detroit’s Justin Verlander was third with the remaining first-place vote and 14 points, followed by the Yankees’ CC Sabathia (13) and Toronto’s Roy Halladay (11).
“Greinke deserved it. Before the season was over, I said my vote was for him,” Hernandez said in Venezuela.
“This has taught me that I need to be perfect, I will prepare myself to be stronger next season. I will need a superb year because just a good one, it’s not enough,” he said.
The NL winner will be announced Thursday.
Despite what he’s overcome, Greinke doesn’t view himself as a role model.
“I really don’t like having a bunch of attention, so even if I did see myself in that light, I don’t do anything about it,” he said. “I’m real uncomfortable doing stuff like that, to be around people and doing stuff like that,” he said.
He fidgeted a bit and spoke softly during a series of telephone conference calls and a video linkup from a studio in Orlando, Fla.
Even before winning, this was sure to be a big week for Greinke. He is getting married on Saturday to high school girlfriend Emily Kuchar, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, and then is heading to Hawaii for a three-week honeymoon.
The 26-year-old right-hander was the sixth overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft. He made his major league debut in 2004 and got hit hard the next year. After leaving spring training in February 2006 to combat his anxiety, he worked his way back to the majors by late September.
Greinke was 7-7 the following year and 13-10 in 2008 before his breakout season. Greinke’s ERA was the lowest in the AL since Pedro Martinez’s 1.74 ERA in 2000 and his 242 strikeouts were second in the league behind Verlander.
After speaking with a pair of pitchers on opposing teams — he wouldn’t identify them — he credited an improved mental approach in which he put all his focus on each individual pitch he was throwing.
But he did think he had the best season. He said he had spoken with teammate Brian Bannister about his FIP — a new-age statistic called Fielding Independent Pitching, which is supposed to factor out defensive differences.
He allowed just 11 home runs this year — nine solo and two with one man on, according to STATS LLC. His victory total matched that of Arizona’s Brandon Webb three years ago for the fewest by a starting pitcher to win a Cy Young Award in a non-shortened season and was the fewest by an AL starter to win in a full-length season.
Steve Carlton was the only Cy Young Award winner who pitched for a club that was worse. The Hall of Fame lefty was 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for the 1972 Philadelphia Phillies, who went 59-97.
Kansas City, which tied for last place in the AL Central at 65-97, scored just 13 runs in his eight losses and 21 runs in his nine no-decisions. He failed to get a victory in six starts in which he allowed one run or none.
Greinke, who agreed to a US$38 million, four-year contract last winter, received a $100,000 bonus for winning.
The first-place votes for Hernandez came from Chris Assenheimer of The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, Ohio, and Mark Feinsand of the Daily News in New York. Verlander’s first-place vote was cast by Steve Kornacki of Booth Newspapers in Michigan.
For all the recognition, Greinke could have done without it.
“A lot of stuff going on today,” he said, “when I usually just like doing nothing. But just part of life.”