Lee, Lidge earn Comeback Awards

Lee, Lidge earn Comeback Awards

Cliff Lee, who was the American League leader in wins and ERA, and Philadelphia closer Brad Lidge, who converted 41 of 41 save opportunities to help the Phillies win a second consecutive National League East crown, are MLB.com's Comeback Player of the Year Award winners for their respective leagues.

Lee, Cleveland's first 20-game winner since 1974, landed on 26 of the 30 ballots -- one for each MLB.com team reporter -- with 24 first-place votes and two seconds for 76 points. He easily outdistanced runner-up Mike Mussina of the Yankees and third-place finisher Milton Bradley of the Rangers.

Lidge finished with 53 points and was followed by Kerry Wood of the Cubs (34), Ryan Ludwick of the Cardinals (27) and Jorge Cantu of the Marlins (23).

Lee was one of just seven pitchers since 1920 to win at least 22 of his first 24 decisions, according to Stats LLC. Ron Guidry ('78 Yankees), Denny McLain ('68 Tigers), Whitey Ford ('61 Yankees), Preacher Roe ('51 Brooklyn Dodgers), Lefty Grove ('31 Philadelphia A's) and Lefty Gomez ('34 Yankees), also each began a season at 22-2 or better.

"Obviously, I'd be more happy and everybody would be having a lot more fun if we were in first place or at least in [the race]," Lee said recently. "But that's not the case. So you've got to make the best of it, and you've still got to go out there and do your job."

Lee won 46 games from 2004-06, but a strained abdominal muscle kept him on the sidelines during Spring Training last year, and he fought an uphill battle the rest of the way in a frustrating 2007 that also included a stint in the Minor Leagues.

This year, Lee stayed in good health and maintained his consistent excellence. Lee finished 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA. The left-hander also led the league in winning percentage (.880), fewest walks per nine innings (1.37) and was second in walks-plus-hits per innings pitched (WHIP) at 1.11.

2008 Comeback Player of the Year voting
American League 1st 2nd 3rd Points
Cliff Lee, CLE 24 2 0 76
Mike Mussina, NYY 1 9 7 28
Milton Bradley, TEX 2 4 6 20
Aubrey Huff, BAL 1 3 4 13
B.J. Ryan, TOR 0 3 7 13
Zack Greinke, KC 1 4 1 12
Francisco Liriano, MIN 0 3 2 8
J. Duchscherer, OAK 1 0 1 4
Ervin Santana, LAA 0 2 0 4
Rocco Baldelli, TB 0 0 2 2
National League 1st 2nd 3rd Points
Brad Lidge, PHI 12 7 3 53
Kerry Wood, CHC 6 6 4 34
Ryan Ludwick, STL 5 4 4 27
Jorge Cantu, FLA 2 5 7 23
Fernando Tatis, NYM 2 5 2 18
Jody Gerut, SD 1 1 1 6
Gabe Kapler, MIL 0 1 4 6
Doug Davis, ARI 1 1 0 5
Mike Lincoln, CIN 1 0 0 3
Mike Hampton, ATL 0 0 2 2
Chan Ho Park, LAD 0 0 1 1

Lidge was traded by Houston to the Phillies last November after going 5-3 with 19 saves and a 3.36 ERA for the Astros in 2007.

The right-hander quickly showed he still had dominating stuff. Lidge had a 0.82 ERA in his first 12 save opportunities and retired 21 of 24 batters at one stretch. As the months went by, Lidge kept converting every opportunity. His reliability, especially after the Mets lost closer Billy Wagner to injury, was a key factor in the outcome of the division race.

Lidge finished the regular season 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA and was 41-for-41 in save opportunities. His place as the most reliable closer in Phillies history became all but official. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no Phillies closer with 20 or more saves in a season had lasted an entire year without a blown save since saves became an official statistic in 1969.

"That's kind of tough to beat," Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "It is what it is. It's pretty amazing that he went out there for 41 chances and did it 41 times. Hopefully he can do it another 10 or so."

Injuries limited Wood to 22 games in 2007, but the right-hander bounced back with five wins and 34 saves for the NL Central Champion Cubs.

Ludwick was a close third after setting career highs with a .299 batting average, 37 home runs, 104 runs and 113 RBIs for the Cardinals.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.