Joey Votto was reminded again on Monday of his breakthrough major league season.
The Toronto native brought the National League most valuable player award back to Canada after a 13-year absence, earning 31 of 32 first-place votes and 443 points from the Baseball Writers' Association of America to best St. Louis' Albert Pujols, who had prevailed the two previous years.
Pujols, who was gunning for his fourth NL MVP honour, picked up the other first-place vote and garnered 279 points to finish second, while Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez was third with 240 points. Players are awarded 14 points for first place, nine for second, eight for third and on down to one for 10th.
Votto, 27, becomes the 12th Cincinnati Reds player and third Canadian to win a major league MVP award, joining first-ballot Hall of Famer Larry Walker (1997, NL) and current Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau (2006, American League).
In 2010, Votto established career highs in batting average (.324, second in NL), homers (37, third), RBIs (113, third) and on-base percentage (.424).
He ranked in the top three in 11 offensive categories — leading in six, including on-base percentage and slugging percentage (.600) — finished top five in 15 categories and top eight in 18.
Votto also reached first base in a career-best 41 consecutive games from May 15 to July 3 — the longest streak for a Reds batter since Pete Rose reached the mark in 48 straight contests in 1978.
“He doesn't have any holes,” Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter told the Cincinnati Enquirer, referring to Votto, the NL recipient of the 2010 Hank Aaron Award. “You've got to mix it up and try to be one step ahead of him. If not, you're going to get beat, unless he hits it at somebody.”
Votto didn't do much of that in the regular season, especially when the stakes were raised. Entering the final day, he had hit .374 with men on base, .369 with runners in scoring position, .357 from the seventh inning on and belted 27 homers that either tied games, put the Reds ahead, brought them within a run or broke open a one-run game.
Pujols, 30, hit a career-low .313 and was comparable to Votto in homers (42), RBIs (118) and on-base percentage (.414). Where the Cardinals first baseman probably lost a few votes is the fact Votto played a large role in Cincinnati gaining its first playoff berth since 1995, with St. Louis finishing five games back in the NL Central.
Pujols's three MVP victories and four runner-up finishes match that of another Cardinals great, Stan Musial.
At 24, Gonzalez could be part of the MVP discussion for years to come after hitting a robust .336 in his third full season in the majors with 34 homers, 117 RBIs and 26 stolen bases in 34 attempts. Car-Go hit .380 with 26 dingers and 76 RBIs in 74 games playing in the thinner air at Coors Field in Denver.
Votto, on the other hand, was a more imposing batter away from Cincinnati's hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park (.349 average to .297 at home) with fairly even homer/RBI production — 18, 56 at home and 19, 57 on the road.
Votto, along with Pujols and Gonzalez — the only players on every ballot — sparked talk of a Triple Crown race in the second half of the season. Joe Medwick was the last player to lead the NL in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in, accomplishing the feat in 1937.
It's the 15th time a first baseman has won the NL MVP. Pujols's three lead the way, followed by Musial, Ryan Howard, Frank McCormick, Dolph Camilli, Phil Cavarretta, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Steve Garvey, Willie Stargell, Keith Hernandez and Jeff Bagwell.
Rounding out the top five in Monday's voting are San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (.298, 31 homers, 101 RBIs) with 197 points and Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (.315, 27-95) with 132 points.