‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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‘As A-Rod goes, the Yankees go.’
I’m far from the first to make this statement but one would be hard pressed to find a better example of Alex Rodriguez’s value to the New York Yankees than his most recent stretch. Across the past ten games, we’ve seen each distinct side of the A-Rod coin but all signs point to his bat heating up along with the New York weather as June approaches.
All the hype coming out of Yankees’ camp during Spring Training was that Alex would come charging out the gates like a thoroughbred and recapture the sweet swing that formerly had baseball experts championing his abilities over Albert Pujols. At the very front of the line of admirers was Yanks’ hitting coach Kevin Long who this spring compared his stroke to that of 2007, the year A-Rod collected his second MVP since his arrival in the Bronx in 2004. Expectations were high that 2011 would be a resounding bounce-back season for Rodriguez who suffered a dip in production over the past two years.
A-Rod delivered early into the season, amassing 18 RBIs through nineteen April games but when the calendar turned to May, his numbers took a sharp decline. An eight-game cold spell without driving in a run was just the tip of the iceberg for Alex who scantly mustered two hits over twelve at bats in a vital series against the Red Sox as the Bombers were swept by their rivals. On May 16th, a 0-for-4 night versus Tampa Bay deteriorated his average to a season worst .242 while the Yankees’ losing streak stretched to six games. It was a low point for both player and club as their struggles coincided one another.
Fans and analysts began to ponder the source of A-Rod’s tailspin as some cited a troublesome hip and others attributed various flaws in his swing as the cause of his slide but suddenly he caught fire. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, an almost reborn Rodriguez began driving the ball with ferocity as message board fanatics marveled at his ability even when making ‘hard outs.’
It’s no coincidence that when he began scalding opposing pitchers that the Yankees’ fortunes immediately turned around. Rodriguez’s two home run performance against the Rays on May 17th kick started a team revival which saw the Bombers take five of their last six games. The following night, he collected four hits while contributing to a 15th inning rally as the Yankees defeated the Orioles. During the ‘Subway Series,’ A-Rod gave the clearest indication that he was back on track by going 7-for-13 against the Mets, including a home run off Chris Capuano on Saturday and a four hit masterpiece on Sunday, raising his average to .284.
Over the years, critics of the Yankees and A-Rod alike have leapt upon their shared weakness of being overly reliant upon the long ball. Rodriguez has often been blamed for trying too hard to deliver the big hit as opposed to simply taking what the pitcher gives him. When Yankees exploded for eight runs in the 7th inning of yesterday’s 9-3 win, it was unusual as it came without a trademark big blast.
Was it a change in the Yanks’ philosophy? Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt seeing the Bombers manufacture runs for a change. We all know that their credo has always been to ‘live and die by the long ball’ and A-Rod is the most obvious example of their successes and failures in big spots. Of course, his postseason struggles have been well-documented, but when the Yankees captured their 27th World Series title it was largely due to Rodriguez’s torrid bat in the postseason where he batted .365 with 6 home runs and drove in 18 RBI.
Without attempting to compare Derek Jeter to Thurman Munson, Alex Rodriguez is the modern day ‘straw that stirs the drink.’ Although he is yet to reach the playoff heights and heroics of ‘Mr. October,’ the Yankees are chiefly dependent upon A-Rod’s production.
The May 1977 issue of Sport famously attributed Reggie Jackson’s quote, “This team, it all flows through me. I’m the straw that stirs the drink. Munson thinks he can stir the drink, but he can only stir it bad.” Whether fans want to admit it or not, the Yankees’ offense flows through A-Rod in both directions. Jeter cannot ‘stir it bad’ as he is too steady of a ballplayer and doesn’t carry the pressure of being a middle of the order hitter. Robinson Cano is yet to have been thrust into the spotlight the way A-Rod has and Mark Teixeira has never been truly held accountable for his career postseason average of .170 as a Yankee.
Rodriguez embodies the quote in its truest definition in that the Yankees sink or swim by his hand. With the slugger locked up through 2017, A-Rod is yet to etch his true legacy into Yankee lore. Was the 2009 postseason the exception to the rule or is he bound to have future moments of greatness in pinstripes? Only time will tell…
Are the Yankees dependent upon A-Rod’s success? Leave your feedback below or send Sean a tweet @HartyLFC.