Phils' Howard edges Pujols for NL MVP

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Cardinals star finished runner-up for the third time.

NEW YORK -- Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies was voted the National League's Most Valuable Player on Monday after leading the majors in home runs and RBIs, beating out the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols for the honor.

Howard received 20 first-place votes and 12 seconds for 388 points in balloting by a panel of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Pujols got 12 firsts, 19 seconds and one third for 347 points.

"It's definitely a relief. It's a good birthday present," said Howard, who turned 27 Sunday.

Howard, the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year, had 58 homers and 149 RBIs while batting .313. He had the most homers in the major leagues since Barry Bonds hit a record 73 in 2001.

He set Phillies records for home runs and RBIs, producing the highest totals in those categories in big league history for a second-year player. Twenty-three of Howard's homers put the Phillies ahead and five tied games. The Phillies went 32-18 in games in which he homered.

Howard didn't make it up to the major leagues for good until July 1, 2005, when Jim Thome went on the disabled list.

"It's been a fun ride," he said. "You can't really just sit there and kind of dwell on what's gone on in the past and all that kind of stuff and what's going to happen as far as being traded or what my future was with the Phillies. The only thing I could have done was just go out and play and let everything else just kind of sort itself out."

Howard may have been helped by Philadelphia's surprising second-half push. He hit .355 with 30 homers and 78 RBIs in second half as the Phillies fell three wins short of the NL wild-card berth.

"People were talking about the trades that were made, how we were kind of written off," he said.

Pujols, who hit .331 with 49 homers and 137 RBIs, defeated Atlanta's Andruw Jones 378-351 in last year's voting after finishing second in 2002 and 2003. Stan Musial and Ted Williams (four times each) are the only players to finish second more often than Pujols, who matched three-time AL MVP Mickey Mantle with three second-place finishes.

Pujols was third in the NL in batting average behind Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez and Florida's Miguel Cabrera, and second to Howard in homers and RBIs.

"To be able to be in that kind of company and just being able to compete with a guy like Albert is, I guess, a feat in itself and it's an honor because what he's done," Howard said.

Stan Musial (four times), Ted Williams (four times) are the only players to finish second more often than Pujols, who matched three-time AL MVP Mickey Mantle with three second-place finishes.

Houston's Lance Berkman was third with 230 points, followed by the New York Mets' Carlos Beltran (211), Cabrera (170) and Washington's Alfonso Soriano (106) -- who on Sunday reached a preliminary agreement on an eight-year contract with the Chicago Cubs worth about $136 million.

Pujols gets a $100,000 bonus for finishing second, Berkman $250,000 for placing third and Beltran $200,000 for fourth.

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