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Most Valuable: Pedroia

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  November 18, 2008 02:20 PM

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Dustin Pedroia has collected his share of trophies and accolades this offseason, and this afternoon, the Red Sox' little second baseman claimed the biggest individual honor of all.

Pedroia was named the American League Most Valuable Player today, becoming the first Red Sox player to earn the honor since Mo Vaughn in 1995. It is the 10th MVP award in club history. Minnesota's Justin Morneau finished second, and Pedroia's teammate, Kevin Youkilis, finished third.

Pedroia, who became just the eighth player in AL history to earn MVP, Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger awards in the same season, said during a conference call this afternoon that he was hopeful of winning the MVP, but that it meant a lot to him just to be mentioned among the game's best players

"I really didn't know what to expect," Pedroia said. "I was just excited . . . having my name in with all those players. You look around the league, there are a ton of great players. When you have your name come up in that category, you get excited and honored. For me to be in that category was an extreme honor for myself."

The 25-year-old Pedroia emerged as a franchise cornerstone and an offensive force in his second full major league season, batting .326 with 17 home runs and 83 RBIs while establishing franchise records for a season by a second baseman in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, total bases, and extra-base hits. He is the first Red Sox second baseman ever to be named MVP and the first AL player at his position to be so honored since Nellie Fox of the White Sox in 1959.

Pedroia received 16 first-place votes from the 28 ballots cast by two writers in each league city. Pedroia was second on six ballots, third on four, and fourth on one for a total of 317 points, based on a tabulation system rewarding 14 points for first place, nine for second, eight for third on down to one for 10th.

Morneau (.300, 23 HRs, 129 RBIs), the 2006 winner, received seven first-place votes and was the runner-up with 257 points.

Youkilis (.312, 29 HRs, 115 RBIs) got two first-place votes and finished third with 201 points.

Pedroia, who was supposed to leave for Mexico on vacation today but was convinced to change his flight to Wednesday when a Red Sox staffer suggested he had a shot at winning the MVP, said all the awards won't change his fiery persona.

"That's just who I am," he said. "I have to try to find a way to have that edge. It makes me a better player. I'll always have it. That's never going to go away for me. Everyone was talking about a sophomore slump. In spring training, they're going to think last year [2008] was a fluke."

Morneau and Youkilis were the only players named on all ballots. Pedroia was left off one ballot entirely -- by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, who gave Youkilis his first-place vote.

"Obviously, I was wrong in my opinion in this situation," Grant told the Globe's Tony Massarotti. "This year, I think I may have tended to value power numbers over the intangibles. I may have focused too much on the statistical analysis. As I continued to weigh that, Dustin dropped further and further on my list, but I think what was proven today was that I was wrong."

Both Boston writers voted Pedroia first, and the argument can be made that he had one of the best seasons by a player at his position in recent history. Pedroia led the majors with 54 doubles, tied Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki for first with 213 hits, and ranked second with 118 runs and 61 multi-hit games, both AL highs. He also stole 20 bases in 21 attempts.

He became the third major league second baseman ever to tally 100 runs, 200 hits, 50 doubles, and 20 steals in a season, joining the Yankees' Alfonso Soriano (2002) and the Astros' Craig Biggio (1998).

After a slow start -- he was batting .260 on June 13 -- the fiery Pedroia was consistently outstanding through the rest of the summer, but his MVP candidacy gained momentum during a late-season stretch when he seemed to singlehandedly carry the Sox.

During a five-game period when Youkilis was briefly sidelined, Pedroia batted cleanup and hit .667 (12 for 18) with four doubles, two home runs, seven RBIs, and six runs scored. He batted .345 with an OPS of .949 in the second half, and in August and September, he batted a combined .353 with a .995 OPS.

Gold Glove awards aren't always the best indicator of good defensive play, but Pedroia truly did have an outstanding year with the glove. He made just six errors at second base, the same number of miscues he committed during his rookie season.

He finished second to Oakland's Mark Ellis in fielding percentage for AL players with at least 100 games at the position. His .992 was barely eclipsed by Ellis's .993, and it stands as the third-best percentage ever by a Red Sox second baseman, behind Mark Loretta (.994 in 2006) and Bobby Doerr (.993 in 1948).

"I'm not the biggest guy in the world," Pedroia said. "I don't have that many tools. If I'm walking down the street, you wouldn't think I'm a baseball player. I've had to deal with it my whole life. I have to do everything to prove [people] wrong."

Pedroia and Youkilis are the first pair of teammates to finish among the top three in AL voting since Ichiro (1st) and Bret Boone (3d) in 2001 and the first Red Sox teammates to do so since Roger Clemens (1st) and Jim Rice (3d) in 1986.

"Certainly the organization is very proud of both players," general manager Theo Epstein said on a conference call last night. "Today's a day for a lot of our scouts and player development staff and major league staff to be walking around with their chests puffed out a little bit. I think as much as we'd love to take credit for them, both guys are just really good players. They came into our system knowing how to play the game the right way."

Pedroia, who said he had been receiving congratulatory text messages from his teammates since the announcement, said he spoke to Youkilis this afternoon.

"Youk had an unbelievable season," Pedroia said. "He's as deserving as anybody. I get first-hand to see him every day, how much he helps our team."

Youkilis finished sixth in the AL in batting (.312), sixth in on-base percentage (.390), third in slugging (.569), and fourth in OPS (.958). He won the Hank Aaron Award as the best offensive performer in the league, but did not win the Silver Slugger award at first base, losing out in a vote of managers and coaches to Morneau.

Pedroia, who made just $457,000 last season, didn't have an MVP bonus provision in his contract. Morneau earned $75,000, while Youkilis got $25,000.

Amalie Benjamin of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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