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Howard beats out Pujols to win NL MVP award

NEW YORK -- Ryan Howard had a season that defied convention,
one that made him only the second player voted Rookie of the Year
and Most Valuable Player in consecutive years.

"I heard sophomore jinx this, sophomore jinx that," he said
after beating out 2005 NL MVP Albert Pujols for the award Monday.
"I just prepared myself in spring training to go out and perform,
stick with my game plan and have fun."

After leading the major leagues in home runs and RBI, Howard
received 20 first-place votes and 12 seconds for 388 points in
balloting by a panel of the Baseball Writers' Association of
America. Pujols got 12 firsts, 19 seconds and one third for 347
points.

Cal Ripken Jr. (1982 and 1983) is the only other player to
follow a Rookie of the Year award with an MVP the following year.
Two players won both in the same year: Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro
Suzuki (2001).

"It's definitely a relief. It's a good birthday present," said
Howard, who turned 27 Sunday.

Howard had 58 homers -- the most in the majors since Barry Bonds
hit a record 73 in 2001 -- and 149 RBI while batting .313. He set
Phillies records for home runs and RBI, producing the highest
totals in those categories in big league history for a second-year
player. Twenty-three of Howard's homers put the Phillies ahead and
five tied games. The Phillies went 32-18 when he homered.

Howard didn't make it to the major leagues for good until July
1, 2005, when Jim Thome went on the disabled list. He batted .288
for the Phillies in 2005 with 22 homers and 63 RBI in 321 at-bats.

"It's been a fun ride," Howard said. "You can't really just
sit there and kind of dwell on what's gone on in the past and all
that kind of stuff and what's going to happen as far as being
traded or what my future was with the Phillies. The only thing I
could have done was just go out and play and let everything else
just kind of sort itself out."

Howard won the All-Star Home Run Derby and in June connected off
the Yankees' Mike Mussina for the first homer to reach the third
deck in the three-year history of Citizens Bank Park, a drive
estimated at 461 feet.

"I didn't think it was humanly possible to do something like
that," Howard said.

He may have been helped by Philadelphia's surprising second-half
push. He hit .355 with 30 homers and 78 RBI in the second half as
the Phillies fell three wins short of the NL wild-card berth.

"People were talking about the trades that were made, how we
were kind of written off," he said.

Pujols, who hit .331 with 49 homers and 137 RBI, defeated
Atlanta's Andruw Jones 378-351 in last year's voting after
finishing second in 2002 and 2003. Stan Musial and Ted Williams
(four times each) are the only players to finish second more often
than Pujols, who matched three-time AL MVP Mickey Mantle with three
second-place finishes.

Pujols was third in the NL in batting average behind
Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez and Florida's Miguel Cabrera, and
second to Howard in homers and RBI.

"To be able to be in that kind of company and just being able
to compete with a guy like Albert is, I guess, a feat in itself and
it's an honor because of what he's done," Howard said.

Howard, who lives in Wildwood, Mo., works out at the same
facility in the St. Louis area that Pujols uses during the
offseason. The two occasionally are there at the same time.

"Just kind of watching to see what he does and his technique
and everything like that, trying to learn from watching him,"
Howard said. "It's been fun. Any questions that I've had, he'd
answer for me or give me some advice here and there."

Houston's Lance Berkman was third with 230 points, followed by
the New York Mets' Carlos Beltran (211), Cabrera (170) and
Washington's Alfonso Soriano (106) -- who agreed to a $136 million,
eight-year contract with the Chicago Cubs on Monday.

Pujols gets a $100,000 bonus for finishing second, Berkman
$250,000 for placing third and Beltran $200,000 for fourth.

Not being eligible for arbitration, Howard made just $355,000
this year. That will change, and he could get even better.

"I'm always working on everything. That's just me," he said.
"Offense. Defense. Speed. Agility. I'm always working on
everything to try to get as close to perfect as possible. I'll be
working on that forever."