Pujols beats out Howard for NL MVP award

NEW YORK -- Albert Pujols views MVP voting a little differently these days.

"You have to consider everything. You have to put all the numbers together," the St. Louis Cardinals star said Monday after powering past Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard to win the award for the second time.

Pujols won despite the Cardinals finishing in fourth place, the lowest spot for an NL MVP winner since Andre Dawson and Chicago Cubs wound up sixth in 1987. Howard led the majors in home runs and RBIs for the World Series champs.

The result will surely renew a debate that Pujols once raised himself: What qualifies as "most valuable"?

In 2006, a month after leading the Cardinals to the World Series crown, Pujols carped when Howard -- whose Phillies missed the playoffs -- captured the coveted award.

"I see it this way: Someone who doesn't take his team to the playoffs doesn't deserve to win the MVP," Pujols said at that time.

Shortly thereafter, Pujols clarified his remarks and said Howard was certainly worthy of the award.

"I think the writers made the right choice in 2006," Pujols reiterated Monday. "He did deserve it."

Just as Pujols believed he earned it this year.

"I wasn't surprised at all," he said.

Pujols hit .357 with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs while playing with a sore right elbow that required surgery. Howard hit 48 homers with 146 RBIs for the Phillies.

Voting was completed before the playoffs began.

"I'm happy I didn't have to make that decision," Pujols said on a conference call from his St. Louis home. "What you do for your team. The players who take their teams to the playoffs should have some consideration."

Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez and Milwaukee Brewers pitcher CC Sabathia, who both led postseason pushes after being traded by AL teams in July, also drew strong support.

Pujols got 18 of the 32 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America and had 369 points. Howard drew 12 first-place votes and 308 points.

Pujols added to the MVP award he won in 2005 and was the only player listed on every ballot. The All-Star first baseman became the 25th multiple MVP winner in either league.

Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun was third with 139 points, with Ramirez fourth at 138. The Houston Astros' Lance Berkman was fifth and Sabathia sixth.

Brad Lidge, perfect on 41 save chances for the Phillies during the regular season, drew the other two first-place votes and came in eighth.

Pujols was remarkably consistent all year -- a trait he's demonstrated throughout his career. He is the only big leaguer to hit at least 30 home runs in his first eight seasons in the majors and has finished in the top 10 of the NL MVP voting each year.

Pujols led the league in slugging percentage and intentional walks. He drew 104 walks while striking out only 54 times and was second in the NL with a .462 on-base percentage.

Almost single-handedly, when the Cardinals' rotation was depleted by injuries, he kept St. Louis in contention while batting .398 in the month of August. The Cardinals finished 86-76, 11½ games behind the Central champion Cubs.

In mid-October, Pujols had surgery for nerve irritation in his right elbow, an ailment that caused numbness, tingling in his ring finger and pinkie, a weak grip and pain inside his forearm. He hopes to resume weight training after Thanksgiving and is expected to be ready for spring training.

"I had some pain," he said. "The worst part was the last two months."

Pujols said there was still a slight chance he might need Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.

"I'm crossing my fingers," he said.

Howard was hitting under .200 toward the end of May. His slow starts have cost him -- this year, he was the first player since the Cincinnati Reds' Hank Sauer in 1948 to be left off the All-Star team despite leading his league in homers and RBIs at the break.

Howard's best month came in September, when he set a team record with 32 RBIs and helped the Phillies rally to the NL East title. He hit .251 overall.

Ramirez had 138 points. He hit .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs after the Dodgers got him from the Boston Red Sox on July 31 and led Los Angeles' push to the NL West title.

Sabathia got 121 points. He was 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA after Milwaukee acquired him from the Cleveland Indians on July 6 and helped the Brewers win the wild-card spot.

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who won the NL MVP last season, did not receive a single vote this year.

Pujols earned a $200,000 bonus for winning the award. Ramirez got $75,000 and Braun got $50,000.

The AL MVP will be announced Tuesday. A close vote is anticipated, with the Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau among the top contenders along with Boston's Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.