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Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Five MVPs who won with big final month

By David Schoenfield

In reality, every game counts the same. A win in September isn't more important than a win in April. A home run in September isn't worth more than a home run in May. When it comes to the MVP voting, however, a big final month can put a player over the top in a close race. This season is no different. If Curtis Granderson has some big moments down the stretch and the Yankees hold on to their AL East lead, that could be a difference-maker for him over Jacoby Ellsbury or Justin Verlander or Jose Bautista. Likewise, if Ellsbury has a hot final two weeks and the Red Sox catch the Yankees, maybe that gives him in an edge.

Here are five guys who cleaned up in September and won the MVP Award as a result:

1. Vladimir Guerrero, 2004 Angels

Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz had similar hitting statistics to Guerrero's final .337/.391/.598 line. They all made the playoffs ... but not in dramatic fashion like the Angels, who entered the final series of the season tied with Oakland for first place. The Angels won the first two games to clinch the division. In the clinching game, Guerrero hit a two-run homer off Barry Zito in the sixth to tie the game at 2. His final line for the month: .363/.424/.726, with 11 home runs and 25 RBIs in 28 games.

2. Jason Giambi, 2000 A's

With the A's fighting the Mariners for the AL West title, Giambi had a monster September: .396/.536/.844, with 13 home runs and 32 RBIs. The A's went 22-7, won the division by a half game (the Indians also missed the playoff by one game). In a tight race, Giambi had carried his team, and he edged out Frank Thomas of the White Sox and Alex Rodriguez of the Mariners in the MVP vote.

3. Chipper Jones, 1999 Braves

Chipper hit .307 with 10 home runs and 23 RBIs the final month, with 22 walks and only 11 strikeouts. But it was the memorable series against the Mets that crystallized his MVP status for many voters. The Braves and Mets were battling for the NL East title with 11 games remaining when they met for a three-game series. In Game 1, Jones hit two solo homers, including the game-winner in the bottom of the eighth inning, and the Braves won 2-1. The next night, he hit a two-run homer in the first and the Braves won 5-2. In Game 3, trailing Al Leiter 2-1 in the fifth, he blasted a three-run homer. The Braves won 6-3 and went on to capture the East crown. Chipper hit .319/.441/.633 that year, but they were other strong candidates. Mike Piazza had 40 homers and 124 RBIs for the Mets; Jeff Bagwell had 42 homers, 126 RBIs and 143 runs; Mark McGwire hit 65 home runs and drove in 147; Sammy Sosa hit 63 home runs. But none of them had that September moment and Chipper ran away with the vote.

4. Ken Caminiti, 1996 Padres

Caminiti hit .326 with 40 home runs and a 1.028 OPS, but that was nothing unusual in the NL in 1996: Eight guys hit at least 40 homers and five had an OPS higher than a 1.000. So why did Caminiti win unanimous MVP honors? The Padres were battling the Dodgers for the NL West flag and he hit .375/.465/.750 the final month, including nine home runs and 23 RBIs. In the season's final series, the Padres entered trailing the Dodgers by a game, but Caminiti went 4-for-4 with a game-tying homer in the eighth and go-ahead double in the 10th. The Padres won and swept the series to win the division. That final moment pushed Caminiti over the top.

5. Willie Stargell, 1979 Pirates

The beloved veteran leader of the "We Are Family" Pirates hit only .222 for the month, but did deliver eight home runs and 18 RBIs in September. Most importantly, he came up big against the Expos, who the Pirates ended up beating out by two games for the division title. On Sept. 18, before more than 56,000 fans at Olympic Stadium, Stargell cranked a game-winning two-run homer off Dale Murray in the 11th inning. On Sept. 25, the Expos led the Pirates by a half-game. Stargell hit a two-run homer off Scott Sanderson in the bottom of the first and homered again in the fourth. The Pirates won 10-4, won again the next night and the division was theirs. In the MVP vote, Stargell's numbers didn't compare to Keith Hernandez (they ended up tied) or other candidates like Dave Winfield, but his leadership and big September home runs gave him the extra credit he needed.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.