Twins first baseman Justin Morneau went to bed Monday convinced that he had no better than a 50-50 chance to win American League Most Valuable Player honors over Derek Jeter, David Ortiz and Frank Thomas.
His father, George, told him not to worry, saying he was proud just to have his son mentioned in that company.
On Tuesday, Morneau found himself atop that list, edging Jeter in a close vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
"When I started talking to my dad, I think I started crying before he did," Morneau said.
Pride was overflowing within the Twins organization, too.
The club became one of the most decorated in recent baseball history, with Morneau's MVP following the AL Cy Young Award won by Johan Santana last week and the AL batting title by Joe Mauer.
The last team to have three different players claim those three honors was the 1962 Los Angeles Dodgers -- with MVP Maury Wills, Cy Young winner Don Drysdale and batting champ Tommy Davis.
Morneau's victory came as a surprise to those who thought the first baseman might split votes with teammates. While Jeter was the lone Yankee to finish in the top 10, Morneau had stiff competition from his own team: Mauer finished sixth, Santana seventh.
"This," Morneau said, "is a team of MVPs."
But the voters -- two from each AL city -- recognized Morneau's impact on a team that struggled early, then went 96-66 to win the AL Central Divison title before being swept from the playoffs by Oakland.
It was no coincidence that when Morneau turned around his season, the Twins turned around their season. On June 7, the Twins were 25-33, and Morneau was batting .236 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI.
From that point forward, Morneau batted a major-league best .362, with 23 home runs and 92 RBI.
Praise from Hunter and Jeter
"He deserved to be MVP," Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said by telephone. "He worked hard for us. He struggled at the beginning, but he got it going in June, and he helped us get to the playoffs."
Morneau, 25, became the fourth Twin to win MVP honors, joining Rod Carew (1977), Harmon Killebrew (1969) and Zoilo Versalles (1965).
Killebrew went to the Metrodome for Morneau's Tuesday news conference and congratulated him with a hug.
Asked how he thought Morneau will handle the expectations that come with winning the award, Killebrew said, "I don't have any doubt in my mind he's going to come back and have a great year."
Morneau received 15 of 28 first-place votes and finished with 320 points, just 14 more than Jeter, who received 12 first-place votes.
Santana received the only other first-place vote.
"I want to congratulate Justin Morneau on this well-deserved honor," Jeter said in a statement. "He is a special player, and I suspect this won't be the last time you will hear his name mentioned when awards are being passed out."
Jeter, the Yankees shortstop who has never won MVP honors, hit .343 with 14 home runs and 97 RBI this year, winning his third consecutive Gold Glove Award. Mauer hit .347, edging Jeter for the batting title.
After the announcement, Morneau received a congratulatory call from 1997 National League MVP Larry Walker, the only other Canadian to win the award.
"He said he was more excited than I was," Morneau said. "But I kind of doubt that."
Morneau's achievement capped a season that saw him erase many of the doubts that surfaced in 2005.
That year, he hit .239 with 22 home runs and 79 RBI, as the Twins missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Hunter was so disappointed with Morneau's attitude, he threw a punch at him toward the end of that frustrating season.
"Last year, I lost a lot of my confidence," Morneau said. "I started beating myself up."
Morneau still hadn't found his stride on June 7, when manager Ron Gardenhire pulled him into the office for a meeting in Seattle. Morneau said Gardenhire basically gave him "a wake-up call," telling him to clear his off-field distractions and focus on baseball.
"It wasn't so much a warning," Morneau said. "They kind of opened my eyes: 'You can be a great player. You can be one of the best players in this league. We believe in you.' "
On Tuesday, the Twins were rewarded for that belief.
Joe Christensen • firstname.lastname@example.org