Pujols named NL MVP

NEW YORK -- Albert Pujols started his career with four
startling seasons, equal or better than those of many Hall of
Famers. Only Barry Bonds always did better -- until this year.

Pujols won his first National League MVP award Tuesday, beating
Andruw Jones in a close vote that didn't include Bonds, who missed
most of the season because of a knee injury.

"A lot of the fans and even the players, they missed Barry,"
Pujols said of the seven-time MVP, who had won the previous four
seasons. "I wished he would have been healthy and played."

Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinals' first baseman, received 18
first-place votes and 14 seconds for 378 points in balloting by the
Baseball Writers' Association of America. Jones, the Atlanta Braves' center fielder, got 13 firsts, 17 seconds and two thirds
for 351 points.

Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee got the other first-place
vote and was third with 263 points.

"It's awesome when you hear people compare yourself with
Barry," Pujols said.

Pujols hit .330 with 41 homers and 117 RBIs. His average was
second, five points behind Lee, and he trailed only Jones (51) and
Lee (46) in homers. He tied for second in RBIs with 117, 11 behind

Jones led the major leagues in home runs, batted .263 and won
his eighth straight Gold Glove.

"I think he deserved it. The voting was the right vote. He was
the right choice," Jones said. "He had the most solid season
average wise, home-run wise and RBI wise."

Pujols played in 161 of 162 regular-season games despite being
bothered nearly the entire season by plantar fasciitis, a heel
injury that he also felt in 2004.

"There were some times when I got out of bed, I had to sit up
before I jumped out of bed because it was bothering me so bad," he

The 25-year-old Pujols has put up remarkable statistics in his
first five major league seasons, averaging 40 homers and 124 RBIs
to go with a .332 average.

He was third behind Bonds and Adrian Beltre in last year's MVP
voting after finishing fourth as a rookie in 2001 and second to
Bonds the following two seasons. Bonds missed most of this year
with a knee injury after winning the award four straight times to
increase his total MVPs to a record seven.

The Cardinals led the majors with 100 wins this season and
breezed to the Central title. Pujols was the driving force on a
team that lost Scott Rolen and other key players to injuries.

Atlanta went 90-72 and won its 14th straight division
championship. Jones was the only Braves player with more than 21
homers or 78 RBIs.

Pujols, who gets a $200,000 bonus, won the 15th MVP award for
the Cardinals, the first since Willie McGee in 1985.

By finishing third, Lee triggered a $750,000 increase in his
next 2006 base salary to $8.75 million.

Florida first baseman Carlos Delgado, who was sixth, earned five
points toward the 30 he needs by the end of 2008 to guarantee a $16
million salary in 2009. He would get 10 points for winning the MVP,
20 if he is a World Series MVP and 10 if he is a league
championship series MVP.