CLEARWATER, Fla. - This just in: The winner of the 2010 National League Cy Young Award is . . .
Carlos Ruiz, of the Phillies. So, let's give a nice round of applause to the only catcher ever to win the award presented annually to the best pitcher in each league.
Oh, all right. You already know Roy Halladay was the unanimous winner in balloting conducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America and announced last November, well-deserved recognition for his 21 wins and perfect game against the Marlins.
But he's always gone out of his way to praise the contributions of his catcher, to emphasize the role Ruiz has played in his success. He would have preferred that what happened yesterday remain private, but the way he demonstrated his appreciation was pretty cool.
When Ruiz, who didn't play in yesterday's 3-1 exhibition win over the Braves, left the dugout and walked into the nearly deserted clubhouse during the seventh inning, he found a plain, brown box sitting on the chair in front of his locker.
At first, he just glanced at it as he began stowing his equipment.
Then he noticed what was written with a marker on one corner of the top.
Curious, he dug into the wrapping paper and packing bubbles and found an exact replica of Halladay's Cy Young Award. He looked at reliever Danys Baez standing nearby and said a few words in Spanish. Both men beamed.
"It means a lot. It's hard to say what I feel. I don't know what to say. It's special, you know? I'm definitely going to say thank you a thousand times. It's real special," Ruiz said later.
Ruiz has never pitched as a professional. He was a second baseman before being converted to catcher. So the thought of getting a Cy Young Award never occurred to him.
"Exactly," he said with a laugh. "It's definitely going to be in a special room in my house. I'll always remember this gift from him. Anything he does for me is special, because if I were going to pay to watch baseball, that's the guy I'd like to watch play the game.
"I can't wait to put it in my house."
Halladay, characteristically, preferred not to talk about his generosity. The fact that he simply left the box on the chair instead of presenting him with the plaque personally was just another way of keeping the gesture as low-key as possible.
But he has unfailingly given Ruiz credit for his success. And the numbers bear it out. Throwing to his regular catcher, Halladay had a 2.13 earned run average and held opponents to a .232 batting average last season. With anybody else behind the plate: 3.75 ERA, .294 batting average.
So, after he won his second Cy Young - he also has one from 2003 with the Toronto Blue Jays - he made some discreet inquiries through the Phillies about the possibility of getting a replica made.
He also conveyed how much Chooch means to him while filming a commercial for the baseball video game, MLB 2K11. The ad starts out talking about what it takes to pitch a perfect game. But in a funny and touching twist, it quickly segued into a riff on how much he misses Ruiz during the offseason and features vignettes showing him asking a Ruiz doll what kind of sandwich he should have for lunch and what color shirt he should wear.
The record books will forever show Roy Halladay was the lone NL Cy Young winner in 2010.
He and his catcher will both know better. *