NEW YORK — Cliff Lee went from the minor leagues to the pinnacle of pitching in one fantastic year. Now, he's eager to repeat his award-winning performance.
Lee took the American League Cy Young Award in a runaway Thursday, capping a dominant comeback season that made him the second consecutive Indians lefty to earn the coveted prize.
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"It feels a lot better than it felt in '07," Lee said on a conference call from his Arkansas home. "I want to win this Cy Young again. I want to make a habit of it."
Demoted to the minors last year, Lee went a major league-best 22-3 this season with a 2.54 ERA. He received 24 of 28 first-place votes and 132 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Toronto ace Roy Halladay was a distant runner-up with four first-place votes and 71 points. Record-setting closer Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels finished third with 32 points.
Lee became the third Cleveland pitcher to win a Cy Young, following Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry in 1972 and CC Sabathia last year.
"We are pretty close friends, and there's a lot of things I picked up from him and I'd like to think there's a few things he picked up from me," Lee said. "I've tried to help him out in situations and he's tried to do the same for me. Apparently it's worked. We've turned into pretty good pitchers."
Trudging through a disappointing season and cognizant of budget constraints, the injury-depleted Indians traded Sabathia to Milwaukee on July 7.
An 18-game winner in 2005, Lee was hurt in spring training last year and struggled so badly he was sent to the minors. He returned to the big leagues and finished 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA, then was left off Cleveland's post-season roster.
"I was kind of pushed to the side," Lee said. "That was tough."
The Indians asked him to visit pitching coach Carl Willis in North Carolina last off-season, and Lee said their chat helped. Determined to re-establish himself, he won a spot in the rotation during spring training and was the league's top pitcher from April on.