Dickey named NL Cy Young

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Dickey named NL Cy Young

NEW YORK (AP) -- R.A. Dickey languished in the minors for 14 years, bouncing from one team to another before finally perfecting that perplexing knuckleball that made him a major league star.

David Price was the top pick in the draft and an ace by age 25, throwing 98 mph heat with a left arm live enough to make the most hardened scout sing.

Raised only 34 miles apart in central Tennessee, Dickey and Price won baseball's Cy Young awards on Wednesday - one by a wide margin, the other in a tight vote.

Two paths to the pantheon of pitching have rarely been more different.

''Isn't that awesome?'' said Dickey, the first knuckleballer to win a Cy Young. ''It just shows you there's not just one way to do it, and it gives hope to a lot of people.''

Dickey said he jumped up and yelled in excitement, scaring one of his kids, when he saw on television that Price edged Justin Verlander for the American League prize. Both winners are represented by Bo McKinnis, who watched the announcements with Dickey at his home in Nashville, Tenn.

''I guess we can call him Cy agent now,'' Price quipped on a conference call.

The hard-throwing lefty barely beat out Verlander in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, preventing the Detroit Tigers' ace from winning consecutive Cy Youngs.

Runner-up two years ago, Price was the pick this time. He received 14 of 28 first-place votes and finished with 153 points to 149 for Verlander, chosen first on 13 ballots.

''It means a lot,'' Price said. ''It's something that I'll always have. It's something that they can't take away from me.''

Other than a 1969 tie between Mike Cuellar and Denny McLain, it was the closest race in the history of the AL award.

Rays closer Fernando Rodney got the other first-place vote and came in fifth.

The 38-year-old Dickey was listed first on 27 of 32 National League ballots and totaled 209 points, 113 more than 2011 winner Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez finished third.

Cincinnati right-hander Johnny Cueto and Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel each received a first-place vote, as did Gonzalez. Kershaw had two.

Dickey joined Dwight Gooden (1985) and three-time winner Tom Seaver as the only Mets to win the award. The right-hander went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA, making him the club's first 20-game winner since Frank Viola in 1990, and became the first major leaguer in 24 years to throw consecutive one-hitters.

Perhaps most impressive, Dickey did it all during a season when the fourth-place Mets finished 74-88.

''It just feels good all over,'' he said on MLB Network.

Dickey switched from conventional pitcher to full-time knuckleballer in a last-ditch effort to save his career. It took him years to finally master the floating, darting pitch, which he often throws harder (around 80 mph) and with more precision than almost anyone who used it before him.

''I knew what I was going to be up against in some regard when I embraced this pitch,'' Dickey said.

He was the first cut at Mets spring training in 2010 but earned a spot in the big league rotation later that season and blossomed into a dominant All-Star this year. He led the NL in strikeouts (230), innings (233 2-3), complete games (five) and shutouts (three) - pitching through an abdominal injury most of the way.

''I am not a self-made man by any stretch of the imagination,'' Dickey said. ''The height of this story, it's mind-blowing to me, it really is.''

A member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team and a first-round draft pick out of Tennessee, Dickey was devastated when the Texas Rangers reduced their signing-bonus offer from more than 800,000 to 75,000 after they discovered during a physical that he was missing a major ligament in his pitching elbow.

Undeterred, perseverance got him to the big leagues anyway. When he failed, the knuckleball brought him back.

Among those he thanked ceaselessly for helping him on that long and winding road to success were all his proud knuckleball mentors, including Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.

''It brings a real degree of legitimacy I think to the knuckleball fraternity and I'm glad to represent them and I'm certainly grateful to all those guys,'' Dickey said. ''This was a victory for all of us.''

Dickey said he received 127 text messages and 35-40 phone calls in the moments immediately following the Cy Young announcement.

The only call he took was from Niekro, a 318-game winner from 1964-87. The first texts Dickey responded to were from Wakefield and Hough.

''Most well-deserved,'' Niekro said in a comment provided by the Hall of Fame. ''I'm super proud of him, as a pitcher and as an individual.''

Dickey has one year left on his contract at 5.25 million and New York general manager Sandy Alderson has said signing the pitcher to a multiyear deal is one of his top offseason priorities. Alderson, however, would not rule out trading his unlikely ace.

''I believe the Mets are going to be a lot better and I want to be part of the solution,'' Dickey said, adding that he hopes the sides can strike a deal and he'd be happy to end his career in New York.

''I want to be loyal to an organization that's given me an opportunity,'' he said. ''At the same time, you don't want to be taken advantage of. I've been on that side of it, too, as a player.''

Price went 20-5 to tie Jered Weaver for the American League lead in victories and winning percentage. The 27-year-old lefty had the lowest ERA at 2.56 and finished sixth in strikeouts with 205.

Verlander, also the league MVP a year ago, followed that up by going 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA and pitching the Detroit Tigers to the World Series. He led the majors in strikeouts (239), innings (238 1-3) and complete games (six).

Price tossed 211 innings in 31 starts, while Verlander made 33. One factor that could have swung some votes, however, was this: Price faced stiffer competition in the rugged AL East than Verlander did in the AL Central.

''I guess it's a blessing and a curse at the same time,'' Price said. ''There's not an easy out in the lineups every game. It feels like a postseason game.''

The No. 1 pick in the 2007 amateur draft out of Vanderbilt, Price reached the majors the following year and has made three straight All-Star teams.

Despite going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 2010, he finished a distant second in Cy Young voting to Felix Hernandez, who won only 13 games for last-place Seattle but dominated most other statistical categories that year.

The two MVP awards will be announced Thursday. Verlander's teammate, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, is a leading contender in the American League.

NOTES: The last AL pitcher to win back-to-back Cy Youngs was Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000. San Francisco RHP Tim Lincecum did it in the National League in 2008-09. ... Price and Dickey became the fourth pair of Cy Young winners born in the same state, according to STATS. The others were Jim Lonborg and Mike McCormick in 1967 (California), Viola and Orel Hershiser in 1988 (New York) and Pat Hentgen and John Smoltz in 1996 (Michigan). ... Niekro and his brother, Joe, both finished second in Cy Young voting, as did fellow knuckleballer Wilbur Wood.

Illini's Malcolm Hill breaks backboard with practice dunk

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Illini's Malcolm Hill breaks backboard with practice dunk

One of John Groce's goals for his team this offseason was to improve the Illini's strength.

Things seem to be going nicely.

Malcolm Hill broke a backboard in the Illini's practice gym on Monday, and there's photo evidence to prove it.

Take a look at these tweets from Hill and Illinois strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher.

Hill was already the team's best player in numerous facets. He led the Illini with 18.1 points and 3.3 assists per game and ranked second with 6.6 rebounds per game.

Now he's shattering glass with some mean slams. It could be a crazy senior year for Hill.

Bullpen's ridiculous performance bails out Cubs in win over Dodgers

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Bullpen's ridiculous performance bails out Cubs in win over Dodgers

The Cubs' MLB-leading starting rotation has gotten plenty of buzz this season, but the bullpen had their breakout game on Memorial Day.

With Jason Hammel limited to only two innings because of hamstring cramping, the bullpen stepped up big time, tossing seven perfect frames in the Cubs' 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in front of 41,470 fans at Wrigley Field.

Hammel allowed just a bloop single with two outs in the first inning on a ball that fell between Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward in shallow right field, wind-aided and sun-aided base hit for Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner.

Hammel walked the next hitter and that was it.

No other Dodger reached base after Adrian Gonzalez walked with two outs in the first inning. 

Hammel and four relievers combined to set down 25 straight to end the game, the first time a Cubs pitching staff has done that since May 15, 1960.

Travis Wood was the standout performer from the bullpen, coming in on short notice in the third inning and tossing four perfect innings with four strikeouts, throwing just 43 pitches.

When Maddon sat down for his standard postgame press conference, he said the Chicago media should really be talking to Wood first.

"Oh my God," Maddon said. "I'm really trying to decide when to take him out of that game. ... My goodness. You throw like 20 pitches after two innings.

"He was so pitch-efficient, he permitted us to do what we did. It comes down to that. Pure and simple. Forty-three pitches in four innings. He was spectacular."

Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon followed Wood in order, each throwing an inning and combining for four strikeouts and only 36 pitches.

"The rest of the guys came in and they were very efficient 'cause they saw Travis go out there and do it," Maddon said. "So then here comes Grimmer and here comes Stroppy and here comes Ronny. 

"They all were really, really efficient. Good pitches, good location, good stuff. But Travis set the tone for the whole day."

"I love our bullpen," said David Ross, who caught the whole game. "Those guys are very impressive to me."

Wood picked up his third victory of the season on a day where he entered the game just seconds after sitting on the couch in the Cubs clubhouse. When he saw Hammel go down, he knew he might be needed, so he dashed out to the dugout and sure enough, he got the call to go into the game.

Maddon and the Cubs always claim Wood has a rubber arm, and he needed only 15 or so pitches to warm up before his four perfect innings. 

"[I was just focusing on] each hitter at a time and try to get the outs," Wood said. "Those are freak situations that happen - a guy gets hurt or in Hamm's case, it was just a cramp.

"So you're just out there to get outs for as long as they want you to. And then take it from there."

The Cubs got on the board in the fifth inning when Zobrist led off with a single and wound up on third after Dodgers right field Yasiel Puig booted the ball.

Heyward plated Zobrist on a 60-foot chopper down the first-base line, reaching safely for an infield single. He then came around to score the game's final run on Anthony Rizzo's double to right field two batters later.

The Cubs have won six straight games and have allowed just one hit to the Dodgers in their last 18 head-to-head innings dating back to last season.

Now the Dodgers have to contend with Jake Arrieta - who no-hit them on national TV the last time he faced them - Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

Cubs breathing a sigh of relief after Jason Hammel's leg cramp

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Cubs breathing a sigh of relief after Jason Hammel's leg cramp

Before anybody really knew what happened, Jason Hammel was sitting on the ground behind the pitcher's mound at Wrigley Field surrounded by Cubs trainers and coaches.

The veteran starting pitcher had just come out to warm up for the top of the third inning after he and Ben Zobrist struck out to strand the bases loaded for the Cubs in the bottom of the second.

He eventually got up and tried to throw a few more warmup pitches, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Chris Bosio ultimately decided to roll with Travis Wood, removing Hammel from the game after only 39 pitches.

Two innings later, the Cubs announced Hammel was being evaluated for right hamstring cramping.

After the game, Joe Maddon sounded optimistic about Hammel's status.

"It seems to have just been a cramp," Maddon said. "We just couldn't wait for it to settle down. You just don't know in that particular moment if it is a cramp. 

"We thought it was a cramp, but you just can't stand out there for 15 minutes and wait for it to dissolve or whatever. So we had to move it along at that point."

Maddon said the Cubs feel Hammel should be ready to go for his next start in five days.

Hammel - who said he's never dealt with a cramp like that before - iced and massaged his leg after being removed from the game and took an anti-inflammatory. 

But he felt good enough to joke after the game about how he gave up the only hit before the Cubs bullpen combined for seven perfect innings of relief.

"I blew the no-hitter!" Hammel said. "It makes me feel really small. I obviously wanted to stay in there. It just sucks. Something like that where it's on and off.

"I felt like after I stretched it and it was down on the ground and I threw the first pitch, I felt fine. Then the next pitch, it was back. It would've taken us six hours to get through the game if I stayed in there."

After two shutout innings Monday, Hammel now has a 2.09 ERA and 1.16 WHIP on the season and has been a revelation in helping the Cubs to the best starting rotation in baseball slotting behind Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey.

Hammel was pitching at an All-Star level (2.89 ERA) before running into a leg injury in early July last season. He was never the same after, posting a 5.03 ERA in his final 15 starts.

Over the winter, the 33-year-old Hammel responded by shedding some weight and rededicating himself to a training regimen designed to help take some pressure off his lower body.

After the hamstring/calf issue last July, Maddon had a quick hook with Hammel, who expressed his frustration at various points throughout the end of last year. 

But after the cramp popped up Monday, Hammel saw the big picture and wasn't upset with Maddon, who wanted to play it safe with the Cubs thinking World Series or bust.

"Made the right move," said Hammel, who bounced the ball on the mound in frustration after being removed from the game. "We're all stubborn when we're out there. We want to compete and finish what we started. But the end game is basically to make sure we're staying healthy and it doesn't really do any good to push it there. 

"I honestly felt like I drank the equivalent of Lake Michigan last night. Once it starts to get pretty humid and hot here, I always hydrate really well. I drank so much water last night. I really don't understand why I cramped. We'll figure it out."

If Hammel is forced to miss any time, Maddon said he would turn to Wood or Trevor Cahill for a spot start.

When asked if he feels ready for a spot start, Wood responded simply:

"I feel so. I'm always ready to take the ball."