Andrew McCutchen insists he hasn't spent one second thinking about the National League's most valuable player award despite frequent reminders from PNC Park fans who chant "M-V-P! M-V-P!" at him when he comes to the plate.
"I've never been the MVP before," McCutchen said. "I don't know what one is supposed to look like."
I have a pretty good idea.
So does Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
In this incredible baseball season for the Pirates, who beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 4-0, Monday night, the MVP is a dead-ringer for McCutchen.
"From the start of the season until now, he's playing better than anyone in the game," Hurdle said.
McCutchen has won games with his superb defense in center field, where he has made just one error this season. He has won a lot of 'em with a base hit or a home run. He won this latest game with his speed.
"He tries to make a difference every day," Hurdle said. "That speed element is there every day."
The game was scoreless when McCutchen led off the fourth inning with a bloop single to center field. The Diamondbacks' Chris Young bobbled the ball and then, for just an instant, couldn't find it behind him. That was all McCutchen needed. He raced toward second base.
"I thought it was worth the chance," he said.
McCutchen probably should have been thrown out, but his speed forced Young into a less-than-perfect throw. Shortstop Willie Bloomquist couldn't handle it and the ball kicked off his glove a few feet back into center field. Again, that was all McCutchen needed. He jumped up out of his slide and made it to third easily.
"How about his awareness two different times there?" Hurdle asked, marveling. "In the blink of the eye, he's on third base ...
"I've been on the other side of a guy with that speed. You know you can't bobble the ball. Then, if you bobble it, you've got to make a perfect play. It's vicious, just vicious."
McCutchen scored moments later on Gaby Sanchez's infield out to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead. That was all they needed on a night when starter Erik Bedard pitched his best game of the season and the defense behind him was wonderful. For a long time -- until the eighth inning when the Pirates finally broke things open -- it looked as if it was going to be the only run of the game.
"Small ball ... that's the way we have to play," McCutchen said. "We've got to do everything right. We've got to do the little things right. We're not going to hit a lot of home runs or score 10 runs a game. We've got to keep scratching and nibbling for runs."
McCutchen, who also had a single to start the three-run eighth, is batting a baseball-best .369. He has been remarkably consistent hitting for average, not so much for home runs. He didn't hit his first home run until May 8 on his 96th at-bat, prompting Hurdle to say McCutchen might have been feeling the weight of carrying around a big contract extension he signed in spring training. That home run against the Washington Nationals -- McCutchen looked skyward as he crossed home plate and mouthed, "Finally!" -- was the first of 22 for him in a 232 at-bat stretch. There was no hotter hitter in baseball during that period, no one even close. Then he went 58 at-bats -- since July 17 -- without hitting another home run before getting one Sunday in the ninth inning of a 6-2 win against the Cincinnati Reds.
"I never press for home runs," McCutchen said. "They just happen."
The RBIs also will come, McCutchen said. It's almost incomprehensible that he had just one RBI between July 17 and Sunday. It's not as if he had a lot of opportunities with runners in scoring position, but, really, one RBI in 16 games?
"It's a game of cycles," Hurdle said, shrugging.
"Let me tell you something about Andrew, though. Teams still don't want to pitch to him. Twice in the past two weeks, I saw the other manager flip something or throw something in the dugout because something happened that allowed Andrew to hit again. They don't have to tell me what they think about him. I've been there as a manager. 'Oh, no, [Joey] Votto is going to bat again.' Or, 'Oh, no, [Barry] Bonds is going to bat again.'
"That's the impact that guy has on the game."
It's curious that Hurdle mentioned Votto and Bonds. Votto was the National League MVP in 2010. The incomparable Bonds won the award seven times. You didn't have to see their statistics to know they were the best in their league. They just looked the part.
That's why it's hard to believe McCutchen when he says he doesn't know what an MVP looks like.
How could he not know?
One looks back at him every morning from his bathroom mirror.roncook
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.