Utility player? Sanchez, 28, wins NL batting title

Updated: October 1, 2006, 10:01 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

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

Final National League Leaders
Freddy Sanchez, Pit. .344
Miguel Cabrera, Fla. .339
Albert Pujols, StL .331
• Sanchez is the first Pirates batting champion since Bill Madlock in 1983.
Complete leaders
Ryan Howard, Phi. 58
Albert Pujols, StL 49
Alfonso Soriano, Was. 46
• Howard's 58 homers set a new Phillies team record and record for home runs by a second-year player.
Complete leaders
Ryan Howard, Phi. 149
Albert Pujols, StL 137
Lance Berkman 136
• NL MVP favorite Howard drove in 35 runs in 35 games since Aug. 25, hitting .400 (46-115) with 14 homers and 28 runs in that stretch.
Complete leaders
Chase Utley, Phi. 131
Jimmy Rollins, Phi. 127
Carlos Beltran, NYM 127
• Utley hit .309 and finished one hit shy of Juan Pierre's NL-leading 204 hits.
Complete leaders
Jose Reyes, NYM 64
Juan Pierre, CHC 58
Hanley Ramirez, Fla. 51
• Reyes' 64 steals topped the majors, and he led the NL for the second straight year. He also had an NL-best 17 triples.
Complete leaders
Derek Lowe, LAD 16
Brad Penny, LAD 16
Carlos Zambrano, CHC 16
Aaron Harang, Cin. 16
Brandon Webb, Ari. 16
• This was the first full season (i.e. not interrupted by labor) without a 20-game winner in the majors.
Complete leaders
Roy Oswalt, Hou. 2.98
Chris Carpenter, StL 3.09
Brandon Webb, Ari. 3.10
• Oswalt overtook Webb after Webb, who entered Sunday with a 2.88 ERA and a shot at an NL-best 17th win, allowed seven earned runs in four innings vs. San Diego.
Complete leaders
Aaron Harang, Cin. 216
Jake Peavy, SD 215
John Smoltz, Atl. 211
• Only six strikeouts separated the final four NL leaders, with Carlos Zambrano checking in with 210.
Complete leaders
Trevor Hoffman, SD 46
Billy Wagner, NYM 40
Joe Borowski, Fla. 36
• Hoffman held on for his 46th save Sunday, raising his career total to a record 482.
Complete leaders

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 RBI.

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 Harang.

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.