Rafael Furcal Named NL Rookie of Year

Atlanta Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal was a runaway winner today in voting for the NL Rookie of the Year.

Furcal, who hit .295 with 40 steals in 54 chances, received 25 of 32 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

The only player listed on all 32 ballots, Furcal got six seconds and one third for 144 points.

Sixth Prize for the BravesRick Ankiel of the St. Louis Cardinals, who gained notoriety during the playoffs by becoming the first pitcher in 110 years to throw five wild pitches in one inning, was second with 87 points, getting six firsts, 17 seconds and six thirds.

New York Mets outfielder Jay Payton was third with 37 points, followed by Philadelphia outfielder-first baseman Pat Burrell with 10 points and Houston catcher Mitch Meluskey with seven.

Furcal, whose claimed age of 19 has been disputed, became the first middle infielder to win the NL award since Steve Sax of Los Angeles in 1982. He became the sixth Braves player to win, joining Alvin Dark (1948), Sam Jethroe (1950), Earl Williams (1971), Bob Horner (1978) and David Justice (1990).

After spending 1999 at Class A, Furcal led NL rookies in runs (87), walks (73), steals and on-base percentage (.394). He had only four homers — all in September — and 37 RBIs,

While he batted .306 against right-handers, he slumped to .250 against left-handers.

Ankiel Goes WildAnkiel was 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 175 innings, helping St. Louis win the NL Central.

That was overshadowed by his performance in the third inning of the Cardinals’ postseason opener, when he became only the second pitcher in major league history to throw five wild pitches, joining Bert Cunningham, who did it for Buffalo of the Players League on Sept. 15, 1890.

“Something obviously was wrong,” Ankiel said. “What do you do? Put it behind you and look forward to the next one.”

During the regular season, Ankiel threw 12 wild pitches. By the time the postseason was done, Ankiel had nine wild pitches and 11 walks in only four innings.

Just Wait for the Curveball “He’s a young kid and he’s tough as nails,” Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan said after Ankiel threw two wild pitches in the NL championship series finale against the New York Mets. “He’s going to be fine.”

Voting was done before the end of the regular season, and the 21-year-old left-hander impressed.

“He’s probably the best-looking young pitcher in baseball, at least in our league,” Gene Lamont said before being fired as Pittsburgh’s manager. “When he starts throwing that curveball and change across, they’ll start talking about him like they did about Kerry Wood.”

Had Burrell spent the entire season in the major leagues, he might have turned into an overwhelming choice. He came up May 24 after six weeks in the minor leagues and batted .260 with 18 homers and 79 RBIs in 111 games.

Payton also put up strong numbers, hitting .291 with 17 homers, 62 RBIs. But he was caught stealing on 11 of 16 chances.