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The Amazing Race (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday October 2, 2007 9:09AM; Updated: Monday October 8, 2007 3:52PM
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Though Colorado is 39-42 on the road and 19-19 in one-run games, neither the Phillies nor the Rockies appear to have an obvious edge in their first-round matchup. That's because both teams are riding momentum, are composed mostly of players appearing in the postseason for the first time and harbor a comeback spirit. Philadelphia and Colorado spent exactly five days combined in first place this season.

Rollins, 28, is one of those postseason newbies, having logged the fifth-most hits (1,307) and second-most runs (769) among all active players without a postseason appearance, a distinction that, on May 14, he thought he was destined to keep. That night, as the 17-20 Phillies changed pitchers while trailing Milwaukee 4-2 in the seventh inning, a downcast Rollins turned to third baseman Abraham Nuņez and said, "Oh, well. Looks like another rebuilding year."

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Philadelphia rallied, however, with six runs in the eighth, and won 8-6. "I came back in the clubhouse," Rollins recalls, "and said, 'That's the last time I'll ever think like that.' "

The MVP race, meanwhile, mirrored the uncertainty of the division and wild-card races. Colorado slugger Matt Holliday had a typical MVP profile: a monster offensive season (a .340 batting average, 137 RBIs and 386 total bases, all of which led the league) capped by a huge September (.368 with 12 homers and 30 RBIs) and a dramatic start to October (a game-tying triple followed by his scoring the winning run in the Rockies' victory on Monday night). But Holliday's numbers were inflated by his playing home games at Coors Field, which, despite using a humidor to store baseballs, remains hitter-friendly. Holliday hit 78 points higher at home and slugged 238 points better.

Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder, 23, became the youngest player ever to hit 50 home runs, but his hitting with runners in scoring position was pedestrian (.270, including .220 with two outs), and the Brewers missed the playoffs.

Mets third baseman David Wright hit .366 in the second half, but rewarding his contribution after his team's ghastly demise would be akin to recognizing an able deckhand on the Titanic .

Rollins might seem lacking in MVP timber too, given that he is a leadoff hitter with an on-base percentage (.344) that is only 10 points higher than the league average, and he led the league in outs (526). But what separates Rollins from the rest of the field is that he plays a premium position (the other top candidates are either corner infielders or corner outfielders) with Gold Glove-caliber skills, he hit for power (30 homers), and he racked up more total bases than every other player except Holliday. Who ever heard of an NL shortstop with 380 total bases? (Nobody. Rollins is the first.) Scoring 139 runs and stealing 40 bases (12 in September without being caught), he produced a body of work that was staggering.

Rollins played leading man for the Phillies right to the end. On Sunday, just minutes after closer Brett Myers locked down the last out of a 16-6 run to the wire, the shortstop grabbed a microphone behind home plate to thank Philadelphia fans for their support -- and to make one more brash pronouncement.

"The World Series!" he shouted. "Let's do it!"

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