In a close vote that raises again the eternal question of baseball's most valuable player voting--should a starting pitcher, who pitches roughly every fifth day, be eligible to win his league's highest award?--Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez edged out Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez for the American League honor yesterday, even though Martinez received more first-place votes.

Two of the 28 voters--one member of the Baseball Writers Association of America from each major league market--left Martinez completely off their ballots, which likely accounted for the difference.

Rodriguez, who put up historic numbers for a catcher this season to go along with his perennially unmatched defensive abilities, received seven first-place votes and a total of 252 points. Martinez, a unanimous winner of the league's Cy Young Award earlier this week, received eight first-place votes, but only 239 points.

Voters were required to list 10 players, and points were distributed on a 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Had the two voters who left Martinez off their ballots--George King of the New York Post and La Velle Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune--listed Martinez in fourth place or higher, Martinez would have won the award.

"I feel the MVP should go to someone who's on the field for 162 games," Neal said. "I have nothing against Pedro. He's a fabulous pitcher and he had a wonderful season. I'm not belittling pitchers, but there's a Cy Young Award for them."

King could not be reached last night.

In one of the most highly anticipated postseason votes in recent years, Cleveland teammates Manny Ramirez and Roberto Alomar tied for third place with four first-place votes and 226 points apiece, followed by Texas's Rafael Palmeiro with four first-place votes and 193 points, New York's Derek Jeter with one first-place vote and 177 points and Boston's Nomar Garciaparra with 137 points.

Rodriguez became the fourth player in history--and the first since Roberto Clemente edged Sandy Koufax in 1966--to win the MVP despite failing to receive the most first-place votes.

"It's special to win because this is the dream of every player," said Rodriguez, who turns 28 later this month. "I had faith. I had a good year, and the way I play my position, I had good enough numbers to win the MVP this year. There were great players who had great seasons. . . . [But] I put up good numbers, too."

Rodriguez hit .332--the highest average by an AL catcher in more than 60 years--with 35 homers and 113 RBI for the West Division champion Rangers.

Martinez, who went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts in what was arguably the most dominant season by a pitcher in a half-century, said winning the Cy Young Award was "good enough" for him and that he would not hold a grudge against the voters who slighted him.

Martinez would have been the 10th pitcher to win both the league Cy Young Award and MVP in the same season.

Rodriguez, runner-up to teammate Juan Gonzalez in the 1996 MVP voting, said he believes pitchers should be eligible to win the MVP award.

"I think it should be for everybody," he said.