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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Jimmy Rollins edges Holliday in close race for NL MVP

By ROB MAADDI, AP Baseball Writer
November 21, 2007

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Jimmy Rollins never thought about winning an MVP award until teammate Ryan Howard did it last year.

"Seeing him do it inspired me because the only thing he can do better than me is hit the ball a lot further," Rollins joked.

Howard is nine inches taller and about 80 pounds heavier than Rollins, so he packs a mightier swing. But Rollins' season stood above everyone else's this year.

The switch-hitting shortstop captured the National League MVP award Tuesday, edging Matt Holliday in a close race after leading Philadelphia to its first playoff berth in 14 years with his combination of speed, power and defense.

Rollins, a first-time Gold Glove winner, received 16 of 32 first-place votes and finished with 353 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

"I just wanted to be mentioned with those guys who are MVP candidates every year," Rollins said on a conference call from California. "To win it is a blessing."

Rollins put pressure on himself and his team back in January when he boldly predicted the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East. Philadelphia won the division on the last day of the season, helped by the New York Mets' historic collapse.

J-Roll made it possible, proving to be the most indispensable player on a team ravaged by injuries. Howard, Chase Utley and several key pitchers spent time on the disabled list. But with Rollins leading the way, the Phillies went 23-17 in games that Howard and Utley missed.

Batting mostly out of the leadoff spot, Rollins finished with a .296 batting average, 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 homers, 41 steals, 94 RBIs and scored an NL-best 139 runs. He became the first player in major league history to have 30 doubles, 20 triples, 30 homers and 30 steals in one season.

No shortstop in the NL ever had more extra-base hits (88) and only Alex Rodriguez had more (91) in 1996 with Seattle. The durable Rollins, who's only 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, played every game, becoming the first NL shortstop in 34 years to do so.

"He's getting the recognition he deserves," team president David Montgomery said. "He's a complete player. Clearly his offense was spectacular and he's so consistent on defense. He was terrific, and he's a solid person."

Rollins, left off the All-Star team in July, had an outstanding second half. He also had more runs, hits and doubles on the road and an equal amount of RBIs away from home, disproving any thought that his stats were inflated because he plays at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.

Holliday, the left fielder who led Colorado's surprising charge to the World Series, got 11 first-place votes and 336 points. Milwaukee slugger Prince Fielder came in third, with five first-place votes and 284 points.

It was the closest election for NL MVP since Atlanta third baseman Terry Pendleton beat out Pittsburgh's Barry Bonds by 15 points in 1991.

Holliday, the NL championship series MVP, hit .340 with 137 RBIs -- becoming the third player since 1967 to lead a league in both categories. He also had 36 homers and topped the NL in hits (216), total bases (386) and doubles (50).

Voting took place before the postseason, when Holliday and the Rockies completed a three-game sweep of Philadelphia in the first round.

Holliday's performance in the wild-card tiebreaker against San Diego did count, however. He hit a tying triple off career saves leader Trevor Hoffman in the bottom of the 13th inning and scored the winning run on a shallow sacrifice fly with a headfirst dive at the plate. Still, it wasn't enough to catch Rollins.

"I called Matt and congratulated him on having a great season and told him how much he inspired me to play," Rollins said. "You never know which way it's going to go."

Rollins, who turns 29 next week, came through when the Phillies needed him most. Booed in New York all season, he batted .346 with six homers and 15 RBIs against the Mets. That helped the Phillies go 12-6 in the season series, winning the final eight meetings with their division rival.

Philadelphia trailed the first-place Mets by seven games on Sept. 12, but went 13-4 down the stretch to finish one game ahead.

Rollins was particularly proud that he, Fielder and AL Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia, also from the Bay Area, have set an example that might encourage more black kids to play baseball.

"I hope they one day say, I want to be Cy Young or I want to be MVP," Rollins said.

In his second full season in the majors, the 23-year-old Fielder led the league with 50 homers -- becoming the youngest player to reach the plateau.

It was the seventh time a Phillies player took the honor. Besides Rollins and Howard, Mike Schmidt won three times (1980, '81, '86), pitcher Jim Konstanty won in 1950 and outfielder Chuck Klein in 1932.

Rollins and Howard became the 11th pair of teammates to win the NL MVP in consecutive seasons, the first since Jeff Kent (2000) and Bonds (2001) with the San Francisco Giants. The previous NL shortstop to win the prize was Cincinnati's Barry Larkin in 1995.


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