NEW YORK - Jimmy Rollins won the National League Most Valuable Player award yesterday, edging Matt Holliday in a close race after propelling the Philadelphia Phillies to their first playoff berth in 14 years with his speed and steady all-around play.
The Gold Glove shortstop received 16 of 32 first-place votes and finished with 353 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"I had a real big smile on my face, to make it simple. I was excited but I wasn't quite sure what to feel," Rollins said on a conference call from California. "I never really thought about winning an MVP. If I won a Gold Glove, then that was the MVP for a shortstop."
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 Pittsburgh's Barry Bonds by 15 points in 1991.
"I don't know what they look at," Rollins said, "but being a shortstop, that's No. 1. Defense is first. Defense is always first."
Rollins batted .296 with 30 homers, 94 RBIs, and 41 steals from the leadoff spot, helping Philadelphia rally from a big September deficit to win the NL East. He led the league in runs (139) and triples (20), becoming the second consecutive Phillies player to win the MVP following Ryan Howard last year.
"I was like, if he can win it I can win it. The only thing he can do better than me is hit home runs further than me," Rollins said.
Rollins, left off the All-Star team in July, also proved a prophet after saying in spring training that Philadelphia was the team to beat in a competitive division.
"If I say something it's because I believe in it," he said.
Rollins, who turns 29 next week, was a leader all year for the injury-ravaged Phillies. Howard, Chase Utley, and several key pitchers were sidelined for significant stretches.
"If Chase doesn't go down then we're probably not having this conversation," Rollins said.
Holliday, the NL Championship Series MVP, hit .340 with 137 RBIs - 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).
"It's Jimmy Rollins's day, and I don't want to step on his day," Holliday said in a statement through the Rockies.
Voting took place before the postseason, when Holliday and the Rockies completed a three-game sweep of Philadelphia in the first round.
Fielder, a 23-year-old first baseman, led the league with 50 homers - becoming the youngest player to reach the plateau.