Vote for May's Pepsi Clutch Performer
Carmona, Cust, Griffey, Hamels, Lopez, Willingham in running
Fausto Carmona, Jack Cust, Ken Griffey Jr., Cole Hamels, Felipe Lopez and Josh Willingham are your six voting candidates in MLB.com's monthly presentation of a brand-new award that is being decided by fans everywhere: the Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Month Presented by Pepsi.
Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees was the fans' choice for April, and those six players are the choices for the month of May. They are listed for various reasons that all fall under the auspices of "clutch" -- whether it's a proclivity for walk-off shots or picking up a pitching staff or somehow lifting a team with a mighty presence.
At the conclusion of the regular season, fans will have the opportunity to vote on the Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Year Presented by Pepsi award winner from among six finalists selected by a special MLB.com editorial panel. Fans also will be able to enter for a chance to win a trip to the 2008 All-Star Game. The Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Year Presented by Pepsi award will be presented during the coming postseason -- the newest honor in the official MLB Awards lineup.
During the first week of each month, you can visit pepsiclutch.mlb.com to vote for the player you believe was the best clutch performer during the previous month. Here is a closer look at your candidates now that May is in the books:
Fausto Carmona, SP, Indians
An injury to Jake Westbrook could have been a problem for the Indians' rotation, but Carmona filled in beautifully. Recalled from Triple-A Buffalo on May 7, Carmona rose to the occasion by going 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA from then on, helping to prop Cleveland atop the AL Central standings with a May 27 win against division-rival Detroit. His outstanding run peaked on May 17, when the righty outdueled Twins ace Johan Santana for the second time this year in a four-hit shutout.
Jack Cust, DH, A's
Acquired in a Minor League deal to replace injured slugger Mike Piazza, Cust erupted on arrival in Oakland. He began by going yard in his debut, then went on to blast eight home runs in his first 13 games with the club, including a monstrous three-run, walk-off shot on May 13 against Cleveland to give him an incredible 12 RBIs over a four-game stretch. The 28-year-old designated hitter also slugged a decisive three-run homer during a 4-2 win against the Bay Area-rival Giants, further minimizing the loss of Piazza.
Ken Griffey Jr., RF, Reds
After missing four straight starts to end April, Junior quieted critics with a resurgent May. Among the month's best hitters, Griffey helped the Reds and his place in the record books by drilling 10 homers to move past Harmon Killebrew for eighth place on the career list. His overall output -- 15 runs, 21 RBIs and a .403 on-base percentage -- contributed to key victories against Houston on May 1 and May 10, and against Washington on May 21. Griffey's biggest hit was reserved for May 15, when he snapped Cincinnati's four-game losing streak with a 12th-inning homer at San Diego.
Cole Hamels, SP, Phillies
Not only did Hamels outpitch most starters in May, he also did so when it mattered most. Two of his Major League-leading five wins in the month came against the division-rival Braves. Emerging as a stopper amid Philadelphia's struggles, Hamels nearly delivered a perfect game with 11 strikeouts against the red-hot Brewers on May 16, an outing that brought his team back up to .500. In just his second season, the 23-year-old left-hander paced the National League with 49 strikeouts in May.
Felipe Lopez, 2B, Nationals
Lopez quite possibly enjoyed the biggest game of May. On May 22 at Cincinnati, he broke a scoreless contest with a third-inning RBI double, tied it with a fifth-inning groundout, and topped it off with a dramatic, game-winning grand slam to single-handedly give Washington an 8-4 victory. Beyond that, he laced a game-winning triple against the Braves on May 17, and contributed with a key RBI in a 4-3 victory over regional rival Baltimore on May 20.
Josh Willingham, LF, Marlins
An unlikely hero, Willingham stepped forth as one of Florida's best hitters in May. His laundry list of big games began on the first day of the month, when he keyed a 5-2 victory over the Mets by driving in five runs -- and it continued when he ripped a game-tying solo homer in a 5-4 victory on May 4. Willingham only picked up steam from there, with two game-winning hits. The first -- and most theatrical -- was a three-run, walk-off homer to beat the Dodgers on May 10. Also notable was a May 16 game against Pittsburgh, when he ripped an important RBI double in the eighth inning.
This monthly award is one of two new MLB-sanctioned, Pepsi-sponsored awards as part of an ongoing multi-platform marketing campaign involving Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball Advanced Media and Pepsi, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary as the Official Soft Drink of Major League Baseball.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.