Thursday's pitching showdown between Tampa Bay's David Price and Toronto's R.A. Dickey -- the reigning Cy Young Award winners from each league -- is undoubtedly rare. In fact, it will mark just the third time in Major League history that the defending Cy Young winners from each league squared off the following season.
Yet the matchup is hardly being billed as the potential pitchers' duel of the year.
While the meeting is indeed unusual, the way each Cy Young winner has started his respective follow-up campaign is even more uncommon. Entering Thursday's contest, Dickey carried a 2-5 record to go along with a 5.36 ERA, while Price sat at 1-3 with a baffling 6.25 ERA.
The three combined wins match the fewest total victories through May 8 by any pair of reigning Cy Young winners since 1967, when the award was first given to one pitcher each in the American League and National League. It's happened three other times, though two of those occasions were the result of one of the defending Cy winners making an early-season visit to the disabled list.
Excluding injuries, only Baltimore's Jim Palmer (one win) and Mets great Tom Seaver (two) in 1974 were limited to just three victories this deep into the season after winning Cy Young Awards in their respective leagues in '73.
"They both haven't had their normal years yet," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Dickey and Price. "But when it's all said and done at the end of the year, I'm sure they'll both be where you expected. But it adds a little to it, because you don't see it that often."
The only other times this type of matchup has taken place came in 1989, when Orel Hershiser and Frank Viola dueled after winning Cy Young Awards one year earlier, and again in 1999, when legends Roger Clemens and Tom Glavine battled one another after each winning hardware in '98.
That '99 season also marked the last time both reigning award winners tallied an ERA of at least 4.50 in the season's opening month -- that is, until both Dickey and Price did so in April.
After winning the NL Cy Young in '98, Glavine went 1-3 with a 5.19 ERA the following April en route to a modest 14-11 season and a 4.12 ERA. Clemens, who like Dickey was adjusting to a new team after being traded from the Jays to the Yankees after winning his second straight Cy Young Award, managed a 2-0 record in April despite a 5.47 ERA. He finished the year 14-10 with a 4.60 ERA.
By the time Clemens and Glavine met in mid-July 1999, they had combined for 15 victories. Likewise, Hershiser and Viola didn't clash until Aug. 28 in the '89 season, by which point they had earned 23 combined wins.
Entering this season, reigning Cy Young winners had gone 68-34 with a 2.63 combined ERA in April since the start of the 2000 season. Price and Dickey, meanwhile, square off Thursday with a combined 3-8 record and 5.82 ERA.
"I don't know what his record is or anything like that, but I know he can pitch better than how he's been pitching, and so can I," Price said of Dickey. "We're both going out there looking to get the ball rolling again, and it should be fun."
At this point, it doesn't look as if the league is headed for its first consecutive Cy Young winner since San Francisco's Tim Lincecum accomplished the feat in 2008-09 -- yet Dickey has said from the beginning that was never his goal.
"The worst thing I can do for the Toronto Blue Jays is try to win another Cy Young -- that's the worst thing I can do," Dickey said this spring. "The best thing I can do is engross myself in every moment I have in being a big league baseball player."
As if the pressure of entering the season coming off a career year and notching the NL Cy Young Award wasn't enough, Dickey made his first career Opening Day start, and it came on a Toronto team with heavy expectations following a busy offseason. Yet just like their ace, the Jays have struggled this season to a 13-22 record and last-place standing in the AL East.
"It has obviously been incredibly disappointing for everybody," Dickey said. "The beauty about baseball is it's just one month and we've got five left, so there's still time."
There certainly is plenty of time for both pitchers to turn it around, and it wouldn't even be unprecedented for either to end up back in the Cy Young race down the stretch. Though rare, pitchers have bounced back from these types of slow starts to ultimately nab the Cy Young Award at season's end.
Most recently, Johan Santana went 1-3 with a 4.45 ERA in April 2006 as a member of the Twins, but went on to finish 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA and win the AL Cy Young. Similarly, Roy Halladay started his 2003 campaign 0-2 with a 4.89 ERA while pitching for the Jays, yet ultimately earned the first of his two career Cy Young Awards by going on to win an AL-best 22 games that season.
"The feeling hasn't changed for me," said Price, who allowed a season-worst nine runs to the Rockies in his last outing. "I still feel like I can go out there and dominate lineups."
He's shown flashes of that potential this season, turning in back-to-back quality starts prior to his disastrous performance Saturday against Colorado. Dickey, too, has dazzled at times this season, winning back-to-back outings on April 13 and 18, while conceding just one combined earned run.
It's with that in mind that Gibbons still believes -- despite the unsightly ERAs and lack of individual wins -- that Thursday's pitching matchup will be worth keeping an eye on. After all, it is only the third of its kind in Major League history.
"As a baseball fan, I think the whole baseball world wants to see that when you get two of the top guys going at it," Gibbons said. "You approach it, you figure if they're both on, it's going to be one of those games, a very low-scoring game. It's pretty special, it doesn't happen very often and you definitely tip your hat to both of those guys, because they're definitely two of the best in baseball."