Pujols edges out Rockies' Helton by .00022

Monday, September 29, 2003

Albert Pujols won his first NL batting title Sunday, beating out Todd Helton in the closest race in league history, and Bill Mueller edged teammate Manny Ramirez and Derek Jeter for the AL crown.

In a season in which power statistics declined for the premier sluggers, Alex Rodriguez and Jim Thome finished in a tie for the major league home-run lead with 47.

Pujols went 2-for-5 as St. Louis won 9-5 at Arizona to win the NL title at .3587. Playing at the same time, Helton was 2-for-4 with a walk as Colorado won 10-8 at San Diego and finished at .3585.

Just after Pujols struck out in the eighth inning at Phoenix, Helton had a chance to move ahead in the eighth inning at San Diego. But with a runner on second and a 3-0 count, catcher Gary Bennett called for an intentional walk.

The .00022 difference was the third-tightest in major league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

In 1945, the Yankees' Snuffy Stirnweiss beat Tony Cuccinello of the White Sox by .00009, and in 1949 Detroit's George Kell edged Boston's Ted Williams by .00016.

Previously, the closest NL race was a .00028 difference in 1931, when Chick Hafey of St. Louis beat Bill Terry of the New York Giants.

Pujols also led the NL with 212 hits and 51 doubles.

Mueller began the day one point ahead of Jeter and two ahead of Ramirez, and the Red Sox didn't start either of them at Tampa Bay.

After Jeter went 0-for-3 against Baltimore and came out of the game with a .324 average, Mueller grounded into a forceout as a pinch-hitter and finished at .326.

Ramirez, who didn't play, wound up at .325.

"My foundation has always been to be one of 25 guys," Mueller said. "Personal things don't motivate me as much getting into the playoffs and possibly winning a World Series."

Mueller's average was the lowest for an AL champion since Minnesota's Rod Carew hit .318 in 1972 and the lowest in either league since Atlanta's Terry Pendleton won the NL title with a .319 average in 1991.

Four of the last five AL batting champions and 10 of the last 23 have been on the Red Sox, with Nomar Garciaparra winning in 1999 and 2000 and Ramirez winning last year. Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki won it in 2001.

Rodriguez and Thome finished with the lowest leading home-run total in a non-strike season since 1993, when Barry Bonds and Juan Gonzalez each hit 46.

Rodriguez, Gonzalez's Texas teammate, led the AL for the third straight season. After leaving Cleveland during the offseason to sign with Philadelphia, Thome won the NL title with the lowest total for that league's leader since Andres Galarraga hit 47 for Colorado in 1996.

Toronto's Carlos Delgado hit a grand slam in his final at-bat and finished the year with a major league-leading 145 RBIs, four more than Colorado's Preston Wilson.

Vernon Wells of the Blue Jays led the AL with 215 hits, and Wells and Anaheim's Garret Anderson tied for the most doubles with 49. The Red Sox became the first major league team with eight players to hit 30 or more doubles.

Florida's Juan Pierre led the major leagues with 65 steals, and Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford led the AL with 55.

The Yankees' Alfonso Soriano hit a record 13 homers leading off the first inning, one more than Brady Anderson's total for Baltimore in 1996.

Toronto's Roy Halladay led the AL in wins with a 22-7 record, while Atlanta's Russ Ortiz led the NL at 21-7.

At 16-11, Atlanta's Greg Maddux became the first pitcher with 15 wins in 16 straight seasons, one more than Cy Young's previous standard (1891-1905).

Boston's Pedro Martinez (2.22) led the major leagues in ERA for the second straight season and fourth time in five years. San Francisco's Jason Schmidt (2.34) led the NL for the first time.

"I guess it looks good on the back of a baseball card," Schmidt said. "I couldn't tell you who won the ERA title the last 20 years."

Chicago's Kerry Wood led the major leagues in strikeouts for the first time with 266 and Esteban Loaiza of the White Sox led the AL in strikeouts for the first time with 207, striking out eight Sunday to finish one ahead of Martinez.

Both leagues had first-time saves leaders. Eric Gagne of the Dodgers had 55, two shy of Bobby Thigpen's major league record, and Oakland's Keith Foulke led the AL with 43.

A day after rallying from an eight-run deficit in a 9-8 victory, Detroit beat Minnesota 9-4 to win for the fifth time in six games, its best six-game stretch of the season.

The Tigers (43-119) wound up one short of the post-1900 record for losses, set by the 1962 New York Mets (40-120).

Detroit has finished with 10 consecutive losing records. Milwaukee (68-94) and Pittsburgh (75-87) had their 11th straight losing seasons, five shy of the record set by the Philadelphia Phillies from 1933 to 1948.

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