Confident Zito Knows His Career Is Young

Times Staff Writer

Notified Thursday that he had won the American League’s Cy Young Award, Oakland A’s left-hander Barry Zito said it was “mind-blowing” to be mentioned in the same sentence as one of the “greatest pitchers of the era.”

He referred to Boston Red Sox right-hander Pedro Martinez, runner-up in close voting by a committee of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America.

Of course, Zito also said he hopes to blow right by three-time Cy Young winner Martinez and ultimately catch Roger Clemens, the record-holder with six awards.

“My dad always told me to dream big and dream always,” the former USC standout said in a conference call with reporters. “I have big aspirations of what I want to achieve in this game and I have a lot of confidence in myself, and when I say I’m shooting for Clemens’ record, I don’t mean it from an arrogant point of view.


“It’s what I want to do and what I think I’m capable of doing, and so I’m honored and happy to have won the first one at 24, because achieving the first of anything, like being selected to the All-Star game, is often the hardest. I mean, having done it once, you’re more established.”

There was nothing automatic about the Cy Young vote.

Zito, who led the league in victories with a 23-5 record and was third in earned-run average at 2.75, received 114 points based on 17 first-place votes, nine second-place votes and two third-place votes from the 28-member committee.

Martinez, who had a 20-4 record and led the league in ERA at 2.26, strikeouts with 239, and lowest opponents’ batting average, .198, received 96 points based on 11 first-place votes, 12 second-place votes and five third-place votes. His Boston teammate, Derek Lowe (21-8, 2.58 ERA), was third with 41 points. Angel left-hander Jarrod Washburn (18-6, 3.15) received one third-place vote and finished fourth.

Zito said that his leading the league in wins hadn’t made him overconfident about winning the award. He pointed out that teammates Tim Hudson in 2000 and Mark Mulder in 2001 had each led the league, or tied for the lead, only to finish second in Cy Young voting and they had needled him in spring training that it was his turn to be the Cy Young runner-up.

“Of course,” he said with a laugh, “one or the other in their scenario expected to win it.”

The award merely underscores the curveballing Zito’s emergence as one of baseball’s dominant pitchers. His 47-17 major league record translates to a .734 win percentage, the best since 1990 among pitchers with 50 or more decisions. He was 13-1 after A’s losses this year, establishing his credentials as a stopper, and led the league by holding opponents to a .185 batting average with runners in scoring position.

To an extent, Zito said, he has been thinking about the Cy Young since he was a youngster taking backyard lessons from Randy Jones, the San Diego Padres’ 1976 Cy Young winner, and being awed by glimpses of the award when Jones wasn’t “spitting tobacco juice on my shoes, Nike high-tops that we couldn’t afford.”


The Zitos really couldn’t afford the $50 lessons, but they taught the young left-hander how to hone his mechanics throwing socks at a full-length mirror and, “from a mental standpoint,” he said, “never to give in.”

Mentally, Zito brings a lot to the party.

He is taking acting lessons and plays acoustic guitar well enough to sit in with his sister Sally’s band, sharpening his playing in his digital studio.

On the pitching front, he has now swept postseason honors, having previously won the Sporting News, Baseball Weekly, Players Choice and Major League Alumni Assn. top AL awards.


He also received a $100,000 bonus for winning the Cy Young. Martinez received a $500,000 bonus for finishing second, illustrating that Zito’s goal may be to catch Clemens but -- in more ways than one -- he still has a ways to go before catching Martinez.



Cy Young Voting


Voting for the AL Cy Young Award, first-, second- and third-place votes and total points on a 5-3-1 basis:

*--* Player 1st 2nd 3rd Tot Barry Zito, Oak 17 9 2 114 Pedro Martinez, Bos 11 12 5 96 Derek Lowe, Bos - 7 20 41 Jarrod Washburn, Ana - - 1 1