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One down, two to go for Rollins

One down, two to go for Rollins

WASHINGTON -- The goal, Jimmy Rollins said, was to attain the 200-hit plateau for a single season sometime during his career. And he reached that figure on Friday night. The next pair of goals: for his Phillies to make the playoffs and for Rollins to be named the Most Valuable Player in the National League.

"Getting to the postseason is more important, definitely," said Rollins, after his club hung in for a 6-3 win over the Nationals at RFK Stadium, its eighth in the past nine games. "But if I can get both, that would be better. If we don't make it, I probably won't get that title. If we don't get there, it's probably going to go to another deserving guy. Look at the guys who are candidates out there. They're in winning positions, and they're having great years, too."

Hit No. 200, a single to right field, came during a three-run, third-inning rally. And two frames later, No. 201 was his 29th homer, which keyed another three-run Phillies outbreak.

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It's all part of a coming of age for the 28-year-old Phillies shortstop, who has accumulated 190 or more hits every season for four years running now, but he finally leapt over the 200-hit hump. Listed at 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, Cal Ripken he is not. But Rollins has played in all 154 games this season, and he's hitting .295 with 38 doubles, 18 triples, 37 stolen bases, 90 RBIs and 132 runs scored.

That's a big league season under any circumstances.

"He's done everything you can ask," said Ryan Howard, his teammate and reigning NL MVP. "He's been the catalyst for our team. He's stepped up into the leadership role, made it known and is making things happen. Is he the MVP? I think so. While everything else has fallen apart this year, he's the guy who's made things happen."

The Phillies don't usually make the playoffs and haven't done so since losing the 1993 World Series to the Blue Jays.

And shortstops don't often win league MVP awards. Since 1962 in the NL, there have only been two -- Maury Wills, when he stole 104 bases for the Dodgers that season, and Barry Larkin with the Reds in 1995. In the American League, Alex Rodriguez, playing that position for the Rangers, won it in 2003. Miguel Tejada, then of the A's, won in 2002, Ripken, the Orioles' great, did it in 1983 and '91.

MVP choices in the NL are more formidable this season, with Rollins, Prince Fielder of the Brewers, Matt Holliday of the Rockies and David Wright of the Mets all in contention. But Rollins certainly has a shot.

"You look at his power numbers, he's hitting homers, driving in runs and hitting at home and on the road, too," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "I was telling him that I've never seen as many hard balls hit at him as there have been this year. He's been amazing to me. He catches some balls that have been rockets. He's fantastic."

Manny Acta, the first-year manager of the Nationals, said that if he had a vote, Rollins, Holliday and Wright would be the top names on his ballot. Of course, he doesn't. Two members of the Baseball Writers Association of America in each city vote for the MVP of the respective leagues they cover. The ballots must be filed after the final day of the regular season.

"In this race, it's going to come down to the guy playing for whatever team that wins it," Acta said. "Jimmy has been everything to the Phils. He has stayed healthy and put the team on his shoulders when guys like [Chase] Utley and Howard went out. And he plays both halves. He's just tremendous on the field and on the bases. He grinds it out every day. The numbers are there."

Certainly, it's a career year for Rollins, who came up as a product of the Phillies' farm system in 2000, and he's finishing his seventh full big league season. All his statistical numbers, save last season's 45 doubles, are all career bests. And with eight regular-season games left, Rollins still has an outside shot at matching that.

In the field, his 11 errors and .984 fielding percentage are right where they were last year. But the 200 hits is the big thing.

"It's something I definitely set out to do this year," Rollins said. "This is the time in my career where athletes, baseball players, start to have their peak years. They've been around, you start to learn about yourself, about what the rest of the league is doing trying to stop you. Suddenly, you know how to take all this information and put it together in a consistent season. And then you start doing that year after year after year. Hopefully, this is the middle of that type of career for me."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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