By Hal McCoy
It was mid-September and Trevor Bauer was seated behind a microphone after painting another near-flawless landscape on the pitching mound.
Bauer was asked if he thought he should win the National League Cy Young Award. He didn’t hesitate. If he had been on the mound his delivery was so quick he would have been called for a balk.
“I don’t see how anybody could see it any other way,” he said.
And hardly anybody saw it any other way. Bauer was a near-landslide winner, the first player who wore a Cincinnati Reds uniform to win the NL Cy Young.
Two writers from each of the 15 National League cities voted and Bauer captured 27 of the 30 first place votes. Yu Darvish of the Chicago Cubs took the other three first place votes.
Although the Reds are the oldest professional franchise, the team has had nothing but second placers in Cy Young voting, five of them until Bauer. The second placers: Tom Seaver (1985), Mario Soto (1983), Danny Jackson (1988), Pete Schourek (1995), Johnny Cueto (2014).
And it was an all-Ohio sweep as Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Indians won the American League Cy Young.
It probably was Bauer’s last representation as a member of the Reds and as a free agent he is expected to climb into a much higher income tax bracket with another team.
When it comes to scientific pitching, he is Professor Bauer and analytics is his middle name.
Nevertheless, Bauer carries a place in his heart for the days when pitchers went to the mound with the intent to pitch nine innings.
He was honestly humbled by the fact that four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux made the announcement from his home via Zoom to Bauer, who sat on a couch in his home dressed in a spiffy three-piece suit with a double-breasted vest.
“Having Gred Maddux make the announcement was awesome,” said Bauer. “I grew up a Braves fan watching Greg and the other guys on TV all the time.”
Bauer also sees himself as old-school when it comes to his down-and-dirty competitiveness, the way he is combative on the mound, the way he screams and pounds his chest, the way he stares dow batters after he strikes them out, the way he struts off the mound after an inning.
“As I mentioned, it was watching Maddux and John Smoltz for the Braves,” he said. “They wanted to pitch complete games, didn’t want to be taken out of there, They’d come out of the bullpen in the post-season. They’d take the ball every day, like me.
“As much as I might be a new-age pitcher, I still respect and have a love affair with the nostalgia of baseball,” he added. “I want to be out there as much as possible, pitch every fourth day instead of every fifth. I just love to compete.”
Nostalgia? The screen saver on Bauer’s cell phone is a picture of former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer, a three-time Cy Young winner.
Bauer and Bieber were teammates in Cleveland until the Reds acquired Bauer in a trade during the 2019 season. It was not a popular nor a profitable trade because Bauer was 2-and-5 with a 6.39 earned run average in 2019 over 10 starts.
He was 5-and-4 last season — three more wins and one less loss over 11 starts. But he had a league-best 1.73 earned run average and was second to Darvish in strikeouts, 100 to 104.
“I hurt my right ankle last year and I was hurt all that season,” he said. “I changed my mechanics to accommodate it and I wasn’t very effective. I was healthy this season. And I have some people who influenced me — (pitching coaches) Derek Johnson and Caleb Cotham, Sonny Gray, Michael Lorenzen, Tucker Barnhart. I had a lot of people around me that helped me.”
Both Bauer and the Reds flopped and flailed early in the season but it was mostly Bauer on the mound in September to carried the Reds into the post-season.
“It was frustrating for us at the start of the season as a team,” he said. “We knew we were a lot better than we were displaying on the field. I hate losing. That’s one thing that drives me crazy. We got on a roll and it was fun. The pitchers fed off each other, the starters fed off the bullpen and the bullpen fed off the starters. We became a snowball rolling downhill.”
Earlier last season, Bauer not only said he deserved the award this year, but he added, “And I’m going to win more than one.”
He got it this year for himself, his first, and got it for the Reds, their first. His next one, though, won’t be for the Reds.