MILWAUKEE -- The question was not whether Albert Pujols of the Cardinals would win his third National League MVP Award. It was how the league's other contenders, including Brewers slugger Prince Fielder, would fall in line after him.
The answer came on Tuesday when Pujols became the sixth unanimous winner in NL history and the first since Barry Bonds swept the balloting in 2002. Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins was second and Ryan Howard of the Phillies placed third followed by fourth-place finisher Fielder, who was listed second on five ballots and finished with 203 total points.
Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, who finished third in NL MVP balloting in 2008, ran 11th this time, with 43 points.
All of the NL's stars played in Pujols' shadow in 2009, when he led the Majors with 47 home runs, 124 runs scored, a .658 slugging percentage and a 1.101 on-base plus slugging percentage, more than good enough to win the league's top honor for the second consecutive season. Pujols was listed first on all 32 ballots submitted by two members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America in each NL city to score a perfect total of 448 points.
The tabulation system rewarded 14 points for first place, nine for second, eight for third and on down to one point for 10th place.
Ramirez was second on 15 ballots and finished with 233 points. Howard was second on six ballots and garnered 217 points. In addition to Fielder's five second-place votes, he also received nine third-place votes, seven fourth-place votes, three fifth-place votes, one sixth-place vote, three eighth-place votes, one ninth-place vote and three 10th-place votes. He appeared in the top 10 on all 32 ballots.
Braun was listed as high as fifth on three ballots but most of his votes were later. He was ninth on four ballots and 10th on six. Half of the voters left Braun out of their top 10.
Both Brewers may have been penalized by some voters for playing on a non-contender. The Brewers were in first place in the NL Central as late as July 4, but then fell out of the race and finished third, at 80-82.
Braun batted .320 with 32 home runs and 114 RBIs and led the NL with 203 hits, but was outshined by Fielder, who homered twice in the Brewers' season finale to finish with 46 homers, one behind Pujols. Fielder drove in more runs than the Cardinals' superstar -- tying Philadelphia's Howard atop the Major League leaderboard with 141 RBIs -- but finished second to Pujols with 356 total bases and a .602 slugging percentage. Only Minnesota's Joe Mauer came between Fielder's 1.014 OPS and Pujols' league-best mark.
At the same time, Fielder boosted his batting average to a career-best .299, a 23-point jump from the previous season. He walked a career-best 110 times. And he was the only player in baseball to appear in all 162 games.
Asked about his statistical achievements in the moments after the Brewers' season-ending win in St. Louis, Fielder was typically nonchalant.
"That's great on a personal level, but it's about winning, so I want to do well again next year but also be winning," he said. "That would mean a better season as a whole. We'll see what happens. You try to be positive and see what happens next year."
Fielder will be entering the second season of a two-year contract in 2010, then has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining. After addressing some of their pitching needs, the Brewers may approach agent Scott Boras later this winter about a contract extension.
The would be good news for Braun, who is signed through 2015.
"He was right there with anyone in baseball," Braun said after the '09 finale. "It was an MVP-type year, and probably the best year in Milwaukee Brewers history. It was incredible to watch every day."
Pujols just happened to be more incredible. He became the 10th player to win the MVP award three or more times and the first former Rookie of the Year Award winner to be a three-time MVP. Bonds is the record holder with seven MVP Awards (1990, '92-93, 2001-04). The other eight three-time winners were Stan Musial (1943, '46, '48), Roy Campanella (1951, '53, '55) and Mike Schmidt (1980-81, '86) in the NL and Mantle (1956-57, '62), Jimmie Foxx (1932-33, '38), Joe DiMaggio (1939, '41, '47), Yogi Berra (1951, '54-55) and Alex Rodriguez (2003, '05, '07) in the AL.
The back-to-back victory by Pujols put him among six NL players and six AL players to have won in successive seasons. Bonds won four years in a row from 2001-04 and also in 1992-93.