Rocket, Unit truly amazing

The Rocket or the Big Unit? Who will add to his overflowing trophy case with the NL Cy Young today.

Originally Published: November 8, 2004
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Editor's note: This story originally aired on SportsCenter.

They've combined for 11 Cy Young awards, 574 wins and nearly 8,500 strikeouts. But on Tuesday, baseball's two walking history museums, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, will do something they've done only once before -- battle each other for a Cy Young award.

In 1997, when both pitched in the American League, Clemens and Johnson finished 1-2 in the voting for the only time. Now, as 40-something freaks of nature, they could repeat that finish in the National League.

Randy Johnson
Johnson

Roger Clemens
Clemens

A year ago this time, Clemens was actually retired. But after a season in which he went 18-4, averaged more than a strikeout an inning and submerged his ERA below 3.00 for the first time in six years, he is suddenly the favorite to become the first pitcher in history to win a Cy Young after retirement -- not to mention the first to win one after turning 42. In the live-ball era, only one man -- Warren Spahn -- won this many games at this age. Only Nolan Ryan ever had this many strikeouts. And the Astros never would have made it into the postseason if they hadn't won the last nine games Clemens started.

But if you somehow ignore their won-lost records, Clemens was actually outpitched by the 41-year-old Johnson. The Unit went just 16-14 for a Diamondbacks team that lost 111 games. And no starter has ever won a Cy Young with only 16 wins over a full season. But Johnson went 13-2 when his team scored more than two runs. His 290 strikeouts led the league -- and were 72 more than Clemens. And the Unit allowed a puny 8.1 baserunners per nine innings. That's the fewest by any National Leaguer with that many innings pitched since Bob Gibson in 1968.

However, it's doubtful enough voters will ignore wins and losses to add another trophy to Johnson's shelf. And neither Jason Schmidt -- who won just three of his past nine starts -- nor Roy Oswalt -- whose ERA was half a run higher than Clemens' -- can make a compelling enough case to pull off an upset. So on Tuesday, Clemens figures to prove there is more than life after retirement. There is also a seventh Cy Young.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com