Utility player? Sanchez, 28, wins NL batting title

NEW YORK -- The National League has a promising future if the performances of some young players this season indicate anything.

Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez won the NL batting title for the
first time on Sunday, going 2-for-4 against Cincinnati to wind up at .344. Sanchez was a 28-year-old utility infielder beginning only his
second full season in the majors and didn't become a starter until
early May, yet had the Pirates' highest average since
Roberto Clemente's .345 in 1969. Sanchez's 200 hits were the
second-most by a Pirates player, to Jack Wilson's 201 in 2004,
since Dave Parker had 215 in 1978.

He ended up five points ahead of Florida's Miguel Cabrera, who had an outside shot at catching Sanchez going into Sunday's game. Sanchez captured the NL-high
25th batting championship for the Pirates, the first since Bill
Madlock's in 1983.

"It hasn't sunk in yet, but it's something special," Sanchez
said. "There's a lot of relief, excitement and joy."

After the game ended, Sanchez stayed on the field and waved his
cap to the crowd, and his teammates crowded around to offer
congratulations during a ceremony that included a video tribute to
Sanchez's season. Many in the crowd of 25,004 stayed to chant his
name and display black-and-gold "Go, Freddy, Go" signs that were
handed out all weekend by the Pirates.

Sanchez admittedly felt the pressure on Saturday night, when he
went 0-for-4, keeping Cabrera in the race. Sanchez was determined
to be more relaxed Sunday and he was, getting hits in each of his
first two at-bats. Cabrera was pulled after going 0-for-2 when it
became obvious he couldn't catch Sanchez.

"After I got the first hit, it took a load off," Sanchez said.
"Last night was the worst feeling. I was so nervous and felt so
much pressure. I kind of forced myself to try to get a hit and, and
that's not me."

Philadelphia's Ryan Howard, 26, led the major leagues with 58 homers
-- the highest total since Barry Bonds' record 73 in 2001, and 149

Chicago's Juan Pierre got off to a slow start this season, but he led the NL with 204 hits, one more than
Philadelphia's Chase Utley.

The New York Mets' Jose Reyes topped the majors with 64 stolen bases, leading
the NL for the second straight year.

Florida's Hanley Ramirez scored 119 runs and stole 51 bases,
becoming the first NL rookie with 110 runs and 50 swipes.

For the first time in modern major league history, there were no
20-game winners in a non-shortened season. Six NL pitchers tied with 16
wins: Arizona's Brandon Webb, Los Angeles teammates Derek Lowe and
Brad Penny, Chicago's Carlos Zambrano and Cincinnati's Aaron

Houston's Roy
Oswalt led the NL in ERA at 2.98. Webb began the day with a chance to lead the NL in wins and ERA,
but had his shortest outing of the season, lasting only four
innings and giving up seven runs to San Diego.

Harang struck out 216 batters, one more than San
Diego's Jake Peavy for the NL lead.

On the way to becoming baseball's all-time career saves leader, San Diego's Trevor Hoffman topped the NL
with 46, raising his career total to a record 482.

Not all the numbers were good this year. Pittsburgh (67-95) had its 14th straight losing season, two shy
of the record set by the Philadelphia Phillies from 1933-48.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.