Season's finest claim TYIB Awards
Superstars Pujols, Lincecum, Lidge among fan favorites for 2008
Once again, the fans spoke loudly when given the chance to weigh in on this past season's best players, plays and moments in the This Year in Baseball Awards.
Over 12 million votes were cast this year, easily eclipsing last year's total of 9.6 million.
Here's a recap of the TYIB winners named by you, the fans:
Hitter of the Year -- Albert Pujols, Cardinals: It's easy to overlook the accomplishments of a player who makes greatness look so easy, but 19 percent of the fans made sure that wasn't the case when it came to voting for Pujols. The Cardinals slugger enjoyed one of his finest all-around seasons, leading the Majors with a .653 slugging percentage and finishing second with a .357 batting average and a .462 on-base percentage. Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia placed a close second at 16.4 percent.
Rookie of the Year -- Evan Longoria, Rays: Most youngsters take awhile to get acclimated to the Majors, but Longoria looked the part of a big leaguer from Day 1. The Rays third baseman went deep in three straight games in both June and July, then bounced back from a fractured wrist with a monster three-homer game in September. Longoria led all rookies with 27 long balls, and fans recognized his contributions to Tampa Bay's AL pennant-winning squad by naming him on 23.5 percent of the ballots. Finishing second in a close race with 17.7 percent of the vote was Cubs catcher Geovany Soto.
Manager of the Year -- Charlie Manuel, Phillies: Manuel had the Phillies playing their best ball of the season when it counted, guiding them past the Mets in September and on a dominant postseason run that ended with their first World Series championship in 28 years. The fantastic finish made Manuel an easy choice for many fans, who named Philly's skipper on 36.3 percent of the ballots. Joe Maddon, who led the upstart Rays to a World Series berth of their own, finished second at 20.5 percent.
Defensive Player of the Year -- Orlando Cabrera, White Sox: Cabrera deftly handled the defensive duties of one of the diamond's most important positions, leading all shortstops in putouts and assists this past season. Beyond the stats, it was clear to all those who watched Cabrera that his strong range and accurate arm held the White Sox infield together, and he emerged the easy winner with 36.3 percent of the votes. Boston's Pedroia finished second in this category as well, earning 24.9 percent of the vote.
Executive of the Year -- Pat Gillick, Phillies: Determining the most worthy recipient for this brand-new TYIB category seemed to be an easy choice for fans, who named Gillick on 31.8 percent of the ballots. The Phillies GM shored up two weak spots by acquiring closer Brad Lidge and third baseman Pedro Feliz last offseason, and gave his club another steady arm by trading for Joe Blanton this past July. Coming in second at 21.7 percent was Boston GM Theo Epstein, who pushed the right buttons to get his team into the American League Championship Series.
Starter of the Year -- Tim Lincecum, Giants: With an overpowering arsenal that belies his youthful features, Lincecum racked up 24.5 percent of the vote to earn TYIB starting honors. In just his second Major League season, the Giants ace led all pitchers with 265 strikeouts, and finished second in the NL with 18 wins and a 2.62 ERA. Coming in behind Lincecum was Yankees veteran Mike Mussina, who reached the 20-win plateau for the first time in what turned out to be his final season.
Closer of the Year -- Brad Lidge, Phillies: When Lidge began the regular season with 17 straight scoreless appearances for Philadelphia, it was clear he'd regained the overpowering form that marked his early years in Houston. By season's end, the man with the unhittable slider had gone a perfect 41-for-41 in save opportunities, enabling him to run away with 44 percent of the votes, the highest of any category. Three-time TYIB winner Mariano Rivera came in a distant second with 22.7 percent of the vote.
Oddity of the Year -- Johnny Damon, Yankees: The heated rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox took a strange turn during a July 4 game in the Bronx. The speedy Damon momentarily corralled Kevin Youkilis' long fly with a terrific leaping catch, but the ball popped out of his glove when he crashed into the wall, then rolled across the top for what felt like an eternity before falling back into play. The bizarre play earned Damon the TYIB nod with 18.9 percent of the vote. Placing second at 13.9 percent was Mets ace Johan Santana, whose shattered bat helped deliver him a base hit against the Cubs on Sept. 23.
Setup Man of the Year -- Hong-Chih Kuo, Dodgers: Kuo overpowered lefties and righties alike with a nasty fastball-slider combination, finishing the season with a 2.14 ERA and an impressive ratio of 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He emerged as the fans' choice for the year's top setup man with 30.3 percent of the vote, handily defeating Tampa Bay righty Grant Balfour, who came in second at 19.2 percent.
Play of the Year -- Gabe Kapler, Brewers: Long known for his ability to go all-out on the field, Kapler gave fans a taste of his hard-nosed style vs. the Dodgers on Aug. 16. The veteran outfielder ran full-speed after Russell Martin's long fly in the seventh inning, snagging the ball as he toppled head-first into the left-field seats. The outstanding catch helped the Brewers hold onto a one-run lead, and earned Kapler a narrow TYIB victory with 16.5 percent of the vote. Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson fell just short at 15.9 percent for his diving catch vs. Washington on April 25.
Performance of the Year -- Jon Lester, Red Sox: -- Already considered an inspirational figure for his heroic battle back from cancer, Lester took things to another level with his start vs. the Royals on May 19. The left-hander quickly settled into a groove, and by the time the night was complete, he had twirled the 18th no-hitter in Boston's storied history. The 130-pitch masterpiece earned Lester a runaway TYIB victory with 37.8 percent of the vote, far ahead of Carlos Zambrano, who notched 14.1 percent by delivering the year's other no-hitter vs. the Astros on Sept. 12.
Moment of the Year -- Derek Jeter, Yankees: The Yankees faced an end to their streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances in the Stadium finale on Sept. 21, but that did little to dampen the celebration after a 7-3 win over the Orioles. Leading the rousing sendoff was Jeter, who took the microphone to address the Stadium faithful. "For all of us up here, it's a huge honor to put this uniform on every day and come out here and play," said the veteran shortstop, who earned 34.7 percent of the TYIB votes. Finishing second at 22.3 percent was Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, who blasted a record 28 long balls in the first round of the Home Run Derby -- at Yankee Stadium, no less.
Postseason Moment of the Year -- Chase Utley, Phillies: Utley displayed his high baseball IQ in the epic rain-delayed Game 5 of the World Series. With the contest knotted at 3 in the seventh inning, the stud second baseman faked a throw to first base to bait Rays baserunner Jason Bartlett into heading for home, then threw Bartlett out at the plate. The heads-up play helped the Phillies close out their World Series victory, and earned Utley an easy TYIB victory with 35.6 percent of the vote. Teammate Brad Lidge took second place with 14.8 percent for his Series-clinching strikeout of Tampa Bay's Eric Hinske that same night.
Tim Ott is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.