When Blake Snell won his first Cy Young Award in 2018, he gave ample credit to the Rays for signing, developing and turning him into a dominant starter.
Traded after the 2020 season — and his controversial removal from Game 6 of the World Series — to the Padres, Snell won another Cy Young on Wednesday.
And he thanked the Rays again.
Snell said his dazzling performance in an emotional outing against the Rays June 17 in San Diego — his first time facing pitching coach Kyle Snyder, manager Kevin Cash and other Tampa Bay staffers he was close with — was a critical moment in turning his season into something historic. He finished 14-9 with a majors-best 2.25 ERA in becoming the seventh pitcher to win the prestigious award in both leagues.
“Being able to pitch in front of the those guys was honestly pretty emotional for me,” Snell, 30, said Wednesday in a media conference call. “I was so excited. Facing them, it felt like home. That’s where I grew up. I was a little kid over there. That whole staff raised me into a man.
“Just kind of wrapping all of that together was a pretty emotional time for me. So in that moment, in that start, was some of the best feeling I’ve ever had pitching. I remember that, and I just remember how excited I was to be able to pitch in front of them again. That game, that’s probably going to be one of my favorite games I think I’ll ever pitch.”
With a 1-6 record and 5.40 ERA in mid-May, Snell had shown some signs of improvement. Starting from the Rays game — in which he struck out a season-high 12 over six shutout innings — he went 12-3, 1.30.
Snell, now a free agent, was an easy winner over Arizona’s Zac Gallen and San Francisco’s Logan Webb in the National League, getting 28 of the 30 first-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
He joined an impressive group of winners in both leagues: Gaylord Perry, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay and Max Scherzer.
“It feels amazing,” Snell said. ”I’m not really good at understanding how to accept awards and not look forward. So definitely it feels good, and I’m trying to enjoy this more than the first one I won. It’s really special. It really hits me having my family around me, because that’s when I really notice what I’ve accomplished.”
Having gone 25-26 with a 3.85 ERA in the four seasons between awards, Snell said it felt different than when he won in 2018 for the Rays, when he went 21-5, 1.89.
“In 2018, I was a kid. I thought I was going to win 40 of them. I thought I was invincible. I thought winning the Cy Young was just what I was going to do every year,” he said. “You’re young, and that’s how you think: I could do it again. I feel great. I’m only getting better.
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“So then to have the (four) years battling every year to be the best version of myself and saying I’m going to do it and what that entails. This season, I‘ve kind of learned what it takes to win a Cy Young now, and understanding the rhythm and the tempo that you have throughout a season is really what’s going to allow you to win a Cy Young or stay to where you can be the best version of yourself and have an opportunity to win one.
“I understand myself way more,” Snell continued. “I don’t get mad at things that I shouldn’t get mad at anymore. I don’t try to be perfect. I just try to be the best version of me, and in doing so I feel like this year came together pretty magically.”
During Wednesday’s award show, MLB Network showed a clip of Snell’s reaction (his mouth blurred for the lip readers) to Cash pulling him from the Series game, then cut to Snell laughing as he watched the monitor as it was brought up yet again.
Snell said he looks back at his time with the Rays fondly and stays in touch with them, saying “I hold (the trade) over their head, just as a joke.” The deal didn’t work out well for the Rays, as they have only minor-league pitcher Cole Wilcox left. They parted ways with pitcher Luis Patino, catcher Francisco Mejia and minor-league catcher Blake Hunt.
“I’ll always be sad being traded, because I loved Tampa so much,” Snell said. “I love everything about Tampa. I’ll never have anything but love for Tampa. We’ve all talked about it a little bit, and it’s been a long time and now it’s kind of just gone by. ... Me and Cash still love each other, talk all the time. He texted me; I probably should text him back. (Baseball operations president Erik) Neander texted me. Everyone from over there texted me, which is amazing and makes me feel so great inside.”
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