Scott Williamson, not even on the Cincinnati Reds' roster when spring training began, was overwhelmingly elected National League Rookie of the Year today.
Williamson, 12-7 with a 2.41 ERA and 19 saves, received 17 first-place votes, nine seconds and six thirds for 118 points from a panel of the Baseball Writers' Association of American.
"I achieved a lot of goals this year that I though would be way down they road," Williamson said.
Florida outfielder Preston Wilson was a distant second, getting nine first-place votes, 11 seconds and 10 third for 88 points. Pittsburgh second baseman Warren Morris finished third, getting six firsts, 10 seconds and nine thirds for 69 points.
"I think my mom is the happiest right now," Williamson said from Houston during a telephone conference call.
Six Cincinnati players previously won the award: Frank Robinson (1956), Pete Rose (1963), Tommy Helms (1966), Johnny Bench (1968) and Chris Sabo (1988) won outright and pitcher Pat Zachry was co-winner in 1976, tying San Diego's Butch Metzger.
Williamson, a starter in his first two pro seasons, was impressive in relief during spring games and survived one cut after another. The 23-year-old right-hander throws a fastball in the upper 90s and a nasty split-finger fastball.
"My biggest goal at that time was to just make the big league team - coming in there, with no chance at all," Williamson said.
He made the club as a setup man and did so well he soon became the closer. He wound up leading NL rookie pitchers in wins, saves and winning percentage. He led NL relievers in ERA and strikeouts (107 in 93 1-3 innings).
"I always was a starter," Williamson said. "Growing up, I was a starter. Throughout the minor leagues, I was a starter. I want to benefit the team the best I can. If it's relieving, I want to relieve. If it's starting, I'll start."
Williamson was 8-2 with a 1.78 ERA at Billings in rookie ball two years ago, and 4-5 with a 3.78 ERA at Double-A Chattanooga last year. He then went 7-4 with a 1.66 ERA and 11 saves in the first half, tying an NL record for relievers by striking out six straight batters against Los Angeles on May 27.
He was chosen for the NL All-Star team, but tailed off in the second half, hurt by shoulder tendinitis and a finger cut.
Williamson thanked former teammate Stan Belinda, sent to Colorado on Oct. 30 in the Dante Bichette trade.
"He taught me so much about baseball. I don't think I would be receiving this award if i weren't for him," Williamson said. "He basically pushed me out of the nest this year. I'm going to have to fly away my own way."
Morris hit .300 or higher for most of the season, but a September slump dropped him to .288 with 15 homers and 73 RBIs.
Wilson, the stepson of former New York Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson, hit .280 with 26 homers and 71 RBIs. But he also struck out 156 times in 482 at-bats, nearly once every three at-bats.
The AL Rookie of the Year will be announced Tuesday, the NL Manager of the Year on Wednesday, and the AL Manager of the Year on Thursday. The Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards will be announced next week.
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