Vote for July's Pepsi Clutch Performer
Garko, Phillips, Hanley, Bedard, Howard, Aramis in running
Ryan Garko, Aramis Ramirez, Brandon Phillips, Hanley Ramirez, Erik Bedard and Ryan Howard are the six voting candidates for July 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.
Vote now, and as a bonus you will be automatically entered in the Pepsi Clutch Performer Sweepstakes. The grand prize is an MLB.TV Premium subscription, a $250 MLB.com Gift Card and four tickets to one 2007 regular season home game of the MLB team of your choosing. Two first prizes each include a $150 MLB.com Gift Card and two tickets to a 2007 regular season home game of your choice. Four second prizes each include an authentic Major League Baseball jersey.
So far this season, fans have given the Pepsi Clutch Performer of the Month Award to Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees for April, Ken Griffey Jr. of the Reds for May and Chone Figgins of the Angels for June. Nominees are being 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. Or use your own definition to determine what "clutch" means in this award.
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.
Here is a closer look at the choices for July:
Garko: Bouncing back big-time from a disappointing month of June, the first baseman helped keep Cleveland in playoff contention with a .375 batting average and a 1.148 OPS. He had a 17-game hitting streak that lasted through July 24, and his finest hour came against the division-rival White Sox on July 17, when the young slugger unleashed a game-tying, two-run homer in the ninth inning and tacked on a walk-off single in the 11th. He had another walk-off single on July 13 against Kansas City.
Aramis Ramirez: No slugger was more crucial to the Cubs' winning ways than Ramirez, who left an injury-plagued June behind him by plugging away for 20 RBIs the next month. With his team trailing, 2-1, against the Giants on July 16, Ramirez roped a game-winning, two-run double in the eighth inning. Again playing hero on July 24, the third baseman went 4-for-5 and delivered the decisive go-ahead RBI in the seventh inning of a 4-3 victory over the rival Cardinals. He also shouldered the load on July 20 with a three-run homer and game-tying RBI single in a victory over Arizona, and delivered a pair of RBIs in a 9-8 triumph over the Giants on July 19.
Phillips: Two grand slams highlighted a memorable month in which the Reds second baseman batted .310 and drove in 24 runs. His first salami broke a 3-3 tie and held up as the margin of difference July 3 against San Francisco, and his second came on July 13, when he drove in six runs to lead the Reds to an 8-4 victory over the first-place Mets. Phillips also turned in a spectacular all-around performance on July 18. Not only did he save the Reds from defeat by making a leaping catch to start a double play and end the 10th, but Phillips also laced the game-winning, two-run single in the 15th to down the Braves in Atlanta.
Hanley Ramirez: So much for sophomore slumps. Before a shoulder injury sidelined him on July 22, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year made his presence felt over the month with a .412 average, 17 RBIs and three stolen bases to go with stingy glovework. As it turned out, most of the Florida shortstop's clutch hits came on the road. He single-handedly took down the Dodgers in Los Angeles on July 6 with a leadoff homer, another solo shot in the seventh, and capped it all off by driving in the game-winning run on a bunt single in the 10th. A day later, Ramirez went 4-for-4 with two steals, two doubles and two runs scored in Florida's third consecutive victory. And in a pinch-hit appearance on July 3, he slugged a game-tying, two-run homer in the seventh inning of a 6-4 victory in San Diego.
Bedard: It was a glorious month for the Orioles ace, as he went 5-0 with a 2.21 ERA and 52 strikeouts (against 16 walks) in 40 2/3 innings. Bedard became a bona fide stopper, notching three of his four July victories after Baltimore losses. His masterful outing on July 7 was a thing of beauty, featuring 15 strikeouts during a two-hit shutout in Texas. The coming-of-age lefty also overpowered Oakland on July 20 by fanning 11 in seven innings. He widened his overall Major League strikeout lead and gained further credibility as an American League Cy Young Award candidate.
Howard: Through July 26, the reigning NL MVP had RBIs in nine of the Phillies' 15 victories in July. He topped the Majors by driving in 29 runs, slugged 10 homers and put up a 1.141 OPS. Howard's most dramatic hit came on July 25, when he launched a two-run, walk-off homer to sink Washington, 7-5, in the 14th inning. Even when the Phillies lost by a 5-4 count both at Houston on July 3 and at Los Angeles on July 11, Howard did his part by belting game-tying hits. He was looking more and more in July like the Howard from 2006 -- and helped the Phillies stay in the NL East picture.
This monthly award is one of two new MLB-sanctioned, Pepsi-sponsored awards as part of an ongoing multiplatform 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.