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Maddux Concedes His Title : The Streak Is Over After Four Straight Cy Young Awards

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

It began to seem almost routine. Greg Maddux would have a brilliant year, then go pick up another Cy Young Award.

What Maddux accomplished over the past four years was one of the most remarkable feats in baseball history, right up there with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Hank Aaron’s 755 homers and Johnny Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-hitters.

Four straight Cy Young awards.

But the streak is over.

“It’s a nice award,” Maddux said. “You Treally don’t think about it much during the season. But in the wintertime, I would look up on the wall at my plaques and, yeah, it would feel good.”

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For the first time since 1991, Maddux won’t be voted the best pitcher in the National League. He’ll probably have to settle for being the third- or fourth-best.

It took a 20-win season--the first in the majors since 1993--to knock Maddux from his throne. He’s happy that the 20-game winner--and his likely heir--is one of his teammates, John Smoltz. In fact, it looks like the Braves will have the three pitchers who’ve combined to win the last six NL Cy Youngs.

“To win four in a row, I don’t know if people realize how hard that is to do,” said Tom Glavine, who won it in 1991. “I don’t know if it will ever be done again. I certainly don’t think it will be done in my lifetime.”

Certainly, the streak doesn’t have the drama of Pete Rose chasing Ty Cobb for base-hit immortality. Maddux’s accomplishment was methodical, without a lot of fanfare, just like the man himself.

It was simply a matter of the best pitcher in baseball maintaining a consistent level of brilliance year after year--after year after year.

During Maddux’s first two Cy Young seasons, he was simply great, winning 20 games both times with ERAs in the low 2s. It was in the last two years that Maddux further distanced himself from his peers.

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In 1994, a year in which the cumulative NL earned-run average was 4.21, Maddux had a 1.56, a staggering 2.65 differential that’s the best in baseball history. And what’s No. 2 on the list? Last year, Maddux went 19-2 with a 1.65 ERA--2.55 below the league average of 4.18.

“People don’t really appreciate it as much right now as they will when Greg is all done playing,” Glavine said. “Then, somewhere down the road, people will realize, ‘Gosh, no one has come close to doing that again. That was such a great feat.”’

Indeed, Maddux stands alone. Ol’ Cy may have been the winningest pitcher in baseball history, but he never had a four-year stretch like Maddux. Few have.

Walter Johnson led the American League in wins four straight years between 1913-16, so there’s a chance he could have won such an award every year, but the honor wasn’t yet in existence.

Lefty Grove had an amazing six-year stretch from 1928-33 when he led the AL in wins four times and also had four ERA titles.

In the past 30 years, the only pitcher who has come close to Maddux’s domination is the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax, who won the Cy Young in 1963, ’65 and ’66. At the time, only one Cy Young was handed out in the major leagues, and Koufax lost to American Leaguer Dean Chance in 1964, when Koufax led the NL in winning percentage (19-5) and ERA (1.74).

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“There’s not any question that he’s (Maddux) made some mistakes he may not have made in the last couple of years,” Glavine said. “Also, he hasn’t gotten the breaks he’s gotten the last couple of years. But as much as people want to say he’s struggling, there’s a heck of a lot of pitchers in the game who would like to be struggling like he’s struggling.”

Maddux struggling? Hardly.

Before his weekend start, Maddux’s 2.70 ERA was second in the NL to Florida’s Kevin Brown, who along with Smoltz is the top contender for the first Maddux-less Cy Young in five years. Maddux’s so-so record (13-11) is mostly the result of a lack of run support.

Still, there have been occasional lapses in the razor-sharp location that is Maddux’s trademark. Every now and then, the ball will drift a fraction of an inch closer to the hitting zone than it did the past two years--critical mistakes for a pitcher who doesn’t overpower hitters.

Maddux has thrown his support to Smoltz.

“He keeps telling me I’ve got something special going, now go out and win it,” Smoltz said. “He tells me you don’t really know how many times you’ll have a year like this. He’s really encouraging me to stay focused and not allow any game to slip away.”

So will Maddux be a bit sad when he finally has to relinquish his grip on the Cy Young?

“I don’t think so,” he said. “If I had finished second and never had won it, then yes, it would hurt. Really, just to win it one time is so big, and I will really feel good for John.”

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