K-Rod in rare contention for AL MVP

K-Rod in rare contention for AL MVP

ANAHEIM -- Being a closer isn't easy.

There's the difficulty of preserving a close lead. There's the blame when a closer blows a save. Yet, when a closer has an amazing season, it's almost impossible to take home any major awards.

Just look at the numbers. Only four closers have won the Most Valuable Player Award since 1950, and just nine have won the Cy Young Award since 1974. And this year, the Cy Young Award went to starting pitchers in both the American and National Leagues.

But Francisco Rodriguez, who saved a record 62 games in 2008, has a chance to join elite company when the AL MVP is announced on Tuesday at 11 a.m. PT.

Rodriguez, who finished third in AL Cy Young balloting, isn't exactly a lock to win MVP, but he is a serious candidate.

After all, the right-hander helped the Angels to 100 wins with his 62 saves, as he had one more save than the division-rival Mariners had wins. And his 62 saves didn't just break Bobby Thigpen's record of 57 set for the White Sox 1990, they shattered it.

Of course, he wouldn't have been able to do it without his team playing in close games, but he thrived in those situations. The Angels won 63 games by one or two runs and K-Rod saved 51 of them while picking up the victory in two others.

In addition to his saves total, his 2.24 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings were impressive.

Just ask Mike Scioscia about K-Rod's value as the Angels manager was campaigning for his closer to be considered for MVP on the last day of the season.

"I think a reliever in Francisco's role has more to do with a team's standing than one starting pitcher does," Scioscia said. "He pitched in 76 games, and a starting pitcher has pitched 30. And he affected the outcome of 62 games, so that's a major impact on the team. So absolutely, he should be considered for MVP."

But being considered for MVP and winning the award are two different things. Even when Thigpen set the saves record in 1990, he finished fifth. And future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera has never finished better than ninth in MVP voting.

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So it will be an uphill battle for K-Rod to win the award this season, but this could prove to be the year because there is no obvious front-runner for the honor.

The Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia and the Twins' Justin Morneau seem to be the favorites for the award, but it's not a sure thing. Both players have teammates that some could argue are even more valuable, like Boston's Kevin Youkilis and Minnesota's Joe Mauer.

And then there's the feel-good story of the Rangers' Josh Hamilton, who led the AL with 130 RBIs after battling back from the chemical dependence that plagued him early in his career.

It's certainly a wide-open field in 2008, so there's always a chance Rodriguez could further establish himself as one of the premier closers in the game by taking home MVP honors.

Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.