Pepsi Clutch finalists revealed
Vote now to honor baseball's most clutch player for September
Josh Beckett, Yovani Gallardo, Matt Holliday, Carlos Pena, C.C. Sabathia and Alfonso Soriano are your six candidates for September in MLB.com's final monthly presentation of a first-year award that has been decided by fans everywhere: the Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Month Presented by Pepsi.
Previously this season, fans gave the Pepsi Clutch Performer of the Month award to Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees for April, Ken Griffey Jr. of the Reds for May, Chone Figgins of the Angels for June, Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs for July and Andy Pettitte of the Yankees for August. Vote now to determine the final monthly award of the season, and once again use your own best judgment on what defines the word "clutch" around baseball.
Starting soon, fans also 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 the special MLB.com editorial panel. Fans who vote for that award 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.
In the meantime, here are your September nominees presented alphabetically:
Beckett: It's almost impossible to talk about Boston's success this season without mentioning Beckett. With Manny Ramirez down and out, Beckett gave the Red Sox a huge lift in September, winning all four of his starts -- three of which came after team losses -- in dominant fashion (2.25 ERA). He took his game to new heights on Sept. 15, outdueling Yankees ace Chien-Ming Wang over seven strong innings in front of Fenway's faithful. Strengthening his case for the AL Cy Young Award, Beckett became the season's first 20-game winner on Sept. 21 after cruising through six innings of work against Tampa Bay.
Gallardo: While most of Milwaukee's pitchers had trouble staying healthy or consistent in September, the 21-year-old rookie emerged as an unlikely stopper amid a tight NL Central pennant race. Some 2 1/2 months after his first big league promotion, Gallardo showed veteran poise by recording three dominant victories in which he put together a remarkable scoreless streak of 21 innings. He followed that flawless stint with another quality start against the Braves, giving the hard-throwing right-hander an ERA of 0.64 through four September starts.
Holliday: On a mission to keep the Rockies in the playoff hunt, the left fielder emerged as a leading National League MVP candidate in September. From Sept. 9-20, in an offensive tear, he slugged 11 home runs in just 12 games, carrying Colorado to a four-game series sweep over the division-rival Dodgers with crucial victories against postseason competitors in the Phillies and Padres.
Pena: While few people knew of Pena before the year, it was hard to ignore the Rays' sweet-swinging first baseman by September. Capping off an incredible season, he gave Rays fans something to cheer for with several crushing blows against American League rivals and playoff hopefuls. Pena stroked five go-ahead hits against the Red Sox (twice), Mariners, Blue Jays and Orioles, and delivered two multi-homer games, including a memorable seven-RBI performance in St. Petersburg on Sept. 5. All in all, September saw Pena pound nine home runs, a career high, and drive in a total of 24 runs.
Sabathia: One could also make a case for teammate Fausto Carmona here, but Sabathia is the nominee and any Indians fan could tell you why. Paving the way for Cleveland's first AL Central championship in six seasons, Sabathia snagged three key wins during the season's crucial September run -- and then added a fourth win last week as the club tried to go after the best overall record. The first victory came on Sept. 3, when he dealt Minnesota an eight-inning shutout. Sabathia took it one step further next time out, firing a complete-game victory against the AL West champion Angels. His Sept. 19 start took the cake, though, as the ace lefty took the life out of Detroit's playoff hopes by delivering a seven-inning gem. His only no-decision was Sept. 14 against Kansas City, when he fanned 13. Sabathia is Beckett's top AL Cy Young competition.
Soriano: It didn't take Soriano long to get back into the swing of things after an injury-marred month of August. In fact, he occasionally carried the Cubs down the stretch. Look no further than his 14 September homers, a total that ranks him second in franchise history surpassing Ernie Banks, who hit 13 in the final month of 1957. The most crucial shot came on Sept. 15, when the left fielder launched a late game-winning, two-run homer to sink the Cardinals in St. Louis. And in his finest showing on Sept. 23, Soriano had a pair of homers and five RBIs in a 9-5 win over Pittsburgh.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.