Sabathia and Wainwright ensure a rarity: No 20-game winners

David Brown
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Someday, you might tell your grandchildren that blue whales swam the Pacific, or that folks read something called a "newspaper," or that Brandon Webb(notes) and Cliff Lee(notes) each won 22 games in the same season.

Like a number of animals in nature and print, 20-game winners appear to be an endangered species.

For the second time in major league history, repeating 2006, no pitchers will reach 20 victories in a full season. Yankees lefty CC Sabathia(notes) and Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright(notes) failed to get there in their final regular-season starts on Friday night.

Sabathia, who also won 19 games for the Indians in 2007, said the politically correct thing after getting hammered by the Rays — that it's hard to get worked up for individual achievements. The 13-4 loss meant nothing to the Yankees, however, who have home-field advantage sewn up.

Wainwright, who left with a 6-1 lead in the seventh inning against the Brewers, was more direct in expressing his disappointment after Milwaukee roared back to win 12-6. His team continues to jockey for playoff position. And he said he wanted the win, darnit.

"I could taste it," Wainwright said.

Since nobody else has more than 18 victories heading into the final weekend, the best possible finish for the Mariners' Felix Hernandez(notes) and the Tigers' Justin Verlander(notes) — if he's needed Sunday to help clinch the AL Central — is to gain a four-way tie with 19.

Not counting seasons affected by work stoppages, somebody has won at least 20 games every year except this one and '06. Johan Santana(notes) and Chien-Ming Wang(notes) led the AL that year with 19 wins apiece, while nobody in the NL won more than 16 games.

Well, that's no fun!

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Twenty victories has long been a sign of virility for a starting pitcher. Denny McLain's 31 wins in 1968 became something of a Holy Grail for the modern starter. But durability concerns and the evolution of relief pitching continue to encroach on opportunities.

Sabathia and Wainwright finished with 34 starts apiece — nobody will have more than 35 — and they only had three complete games combined.

Thirty years ago, a pitcher needed to make 40 starts to lead the league and completing half or more of his starts was common. Today's starter just doesn't come close.

And yet, just last season, Webb and Lee won 22 games apiece, with Mike Mussina(notes) and Roy Halladay(notes) finishing at 20 victories. So, we're not going to lose all of the dinosaurs at once.

Sabathia does have a point about individual achievement, especially with the playoffs coming up next week and the win losing respect to stats that are more indictive of a pitcher's performance, like ERA+ and WHIP. Expected to start Game 1 for the Yankees, Sabathia is 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA in five career postseason starts.

"It didn't happen," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of 20 victories. "But his next start obviously is a big start, and we look forward to it. CC has talked about the real prize, and that starts next week."

The same goes for Wainwright, who was lights out as the Cardinals closer for the 2006 World Series champions. But not getting his 20th win will stick in his craw a little.

It will with his manager, too.

"This is right there with the most disappointing, toughest regular-season losses that I can remember," 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."