By Jason Keidel
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So Aura won Game 1 and Mystique lost Game 2, getting the essential split on the road. Southpaw pitching, as I predicted, will steer this series. But with all the static of myriad sidebars, it’s hard to distill the ALDS into proper form.
Yankees fans are nervous. And they should be. After Aura and Mystique, Destiny is gone and hence the fence around the Bronx Bombers isn’t impenetrable anymore. And does anyone doubt that this obdurate Orioles team won’t win at least one more game in this series?
As I wrote last week, the Yankees’ season rests on the rested arms of CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. But, as always, Alex Rodriguez is at the vortex of all media cackle. When you make nearly $30 million a season there’s a reason to take a jeweler’s eye to A-Rod’s performance. And when you start the playoffs 1-for-9 with five strikeouts, whiffing with ample, aquatic animals on the pond, you’re assured a visit from 8 million batting instructors.
There’s no doubt now that A-Rod sits atop the totem pole of polarizing players. Not even LeBron James at his gagging, fourth-quarter worst evoked the evangelical octaves now drowning No. 13, who plays the hot corner wherever he goes and has been less than stellar this week and, frankly, just about any week not in 2009.
I’ve been scolded and lauded for speaking my mind on A-Rod, calling him a less than savory human being off the diamond and a declining star on it. His answers are scripted and his monologues are rehearsed. Just listen to his interview with Mike Francesa last Friday and fire up the one he did with Michael Kay on the same day (on another radio station).
He belched identical bromides, from “I wouldn’t count me out” to “Brian Cashman has done a wonderful job building our roster, particularly signing Ichiro” to “We have a circular lineup” to “anyone here can do the job, just pass the baton to the hottest hitter.” The only discernible difference between the two appearances was the voice of the man asking the questions.
So when you combine the cash, cachet, off-field gaffes, and now on-field foibles, A-Rod has a Texas-sized target on his back. And it is indeed possible that A-Rod is a choke artist, despite his dominant ’09. There are just too many divergent playoff performances to ignore. The man is an all-time great, yet his October stat sheet reads like Rick Cerrone’s baseball card. There are just too many .258, .133, .071, .267, .250, .273, .190 postseasons – along with his dazzling, .111 batting average against Baltimore – to call it a coincidence. Let’s just label 2009 the proverbial blind squirrel and such. That glorious October keeps him from the dubious moniker of greatest (or worst, if you prefer) choke artist of all time.
There’s no doubt A-Rod’s skills are evaporating. He hasn’t played a full season since 2007, which, coincidentally – or not – was his last contract year. He’s got all the vintage symptoms of a reformed juicer, his joints flaring exponentially as they did with Mark McGwire and crew.
Should A-Rod plunge down the lineup, just north of Russell Martin? Or is he perfectly placed in front of Robinson Cano, the hottest hitter on Earth? Both sides make salient arguments. Yet it’s trivial if Sabathia and Pettitte don’t perform to the back of their baseball cards.
And despite all of this, I want A-Rod to hit an A-Bomb every at bat. As a Yankees fan since 1977, I can look at the laundry, ignore the player, and root-root-root for the Bombers. It’s not essential to savor every player on your favorite team. Thank goodness.
Since we were toddlers we’re told that pitching wins World Series titles. Yet we refuse to listen when we find a proper punching bag, preferably swathed in pinstripes and No. 13 bulging from his bacne-scarred back.
Frankly, it would be fine sporting fun to blame A-Rod for all that ails the Yankees. It’s just not honest.
Where do you stand on the A-Rod debate? Let Keidel know in the comments below…