'Daylight Dandy' Cueto making Cy Young bid
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Reds have not had a Cy Young Award winner since, well, since baseball was invented.
In other words, never.
And the Reds have not had a 20-game winner since 1988 when lefthander Danny Jackson won 23 with 15 complete games.
Johnny Cueto is The Man on the Mound trying to change all that -- win a Cy Young, win 20 games -- while trying to pitch his team into its first World Series since 1990.
Cueto won his 16th game Saturday, holding the Chicago Cubs to two runs and three hits over eight innings, walking none and striking out eight.
So, the 26-year-old Dominican righthander is 16-6 with a 2.44 ERA and he is maturing faster than a pumpkin patch in October.
On Saturday the Cubs scored two runs in the first inning on a home run by Alfonso Soriano. In the not too distant past that would have totally unnerved Cueto, put a permanent frown on his face, cause him to try to throw his fastballs through a Kevlar vest.
That's no longer the modus operandi. After Soriano's home run Cueto retired 20 of the final 22 batters he faced and the Reds rescue Cueto with home runs by Xavier Paul, Todd Frazier and Miguel Cairo.
"Johnny settled down after Soriano's home run and in the past that might have bothered him," said manager Dusty Baker. "He settled down like it was no big deal. Success breeds that. And he is getting better and better."
Cueto knows there is a major difference in his reaction to adversity and how he works delicately through it rather than trying to run through it carrying a battering ram.
"I'm a human being and they are going to hit me, not matter what," he said. "But when he (Soriano) hit that home run I said, 'OK, this is it. I'm going to stop them the rest the way.'"
He couldn't have stopped the Cubs more than if his head was a traffic light shining red.
Baker believes Cueto is using what he considered a snub to push him to a goal -- the snub was not making the All-Star team and the goal is the Cy Young.
"He has to be in serious contention for the Cy Young," Baker added. "You know we don't talk about it, but I'm sure it is in the back of his mind, especially after not making the All-Star team. We feel very confident and comfortable when he is on the mound."
Said Cueto, "I have to keep working. There is a lot more baseball to go before I think about those things. Yeah, I wanted to go to the All-Star game, to have that honor, but I can't worry about the Cy Young right now. Too many games to go."
And for some inexplicable reason, Cueto is The Day Dreamer, a pitcher who forces the other team to have Dog Day Afternoons. He is 11-0 this season in day games with a 1.62 earned run average.
"I like to throw at night," he said. "Don't get me wrong. I like to throw at night better than at day. But when I know a day game is coming I prepare, I get ready to throw. I jdomn't do anything different for day or not games. I prepare the same way. Just one of those things."
On Saturday, the Reds and Cubs were playing a day/night doubleheader are part of a makeup from an earlier rainout. They chose Cueto to pitch the firt game, during the day, then had rookie Todd Remond ready for his major-league debut in the night game.
"They told me, 'You have to pitch the first game, you have to get us the win in the first game,'" Cueto said. "So I concentrated hard to get ready to do that."
And do it he did. He did it by throwing strikes. Twenty of the 28 batters he faced so first-pitch strikes. He walked nobody, a huge turn-around in his career.
So far this season he has walked only 37 in 169 2/3 innings while striking out 135.
Cueto is 7-1 in his last eight starts and while he might not be thinking about Cy Young, he is sure thinking like Cy Young, pitching like Cy Young and, well, he can at least sniff the base of the trophy.