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November 2, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

The Terrific Tandem

by Jay Jaffe

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Dear Haters,

Eat it.

Love,
Alex Rodriguez

Last night, in the ninth inning of Game Four of the World Series, Alex Rodriguez put to rest the seemingly endless string of complaints that have dogged him since 2004 regarding his ability to come through in the clutch. Never mind the fact that 15 of his 30 homers this year either tied the score or gave the Yankees the lead. Never mind the fact he had already bopped six homers during the Yankees' current postseason run, early-inning homers to kick off the scoring or late-inning-even extra-inning-homers to tie games. For some of his critics, that could never be enough, simply because he's the highest-paid player in the game, and a socially awkward one at that.

Last night, in the ninth inning of Game Four of the World Series, Alex Rodriguez came to the plate with two outs and the opportunity to drive in a run to give his team the lead in a World Series game-the kind of situation just about anyone who's ever played baseball has daydreamed about, whether in their own backyards as a school kid or when putting pen to ink on a multi-million dollar deal. And he did. And it was good. Knowing that with a runner on third base he could expect a fastball, Rodriguez ripped a 92 mph Brad Lidge offering into the left-field corner to bring home Johnny Damon, restoring the lead that the Yankees had held from the top of the first to the bottom of the eighth, only to fritter it away. The Yanks would add two more runs on a Jorge Posada single one batter later, but it was Rodriguez who drove in the decisive run, giving the Bronx Bombers a commanding 3-1 lead in the World Series. It doesn't get much more clutch than that.

It took a bit of help from his teammates to have that opportunity, of course, and it was Damon who more or less manufactured that opportunity. With two outs in the top of the ninth, he battled back from the 1-2 hole Lidge had put him in, stretching the at-bat to nine pitches by fouling off slider after slider and fastball after fastball. Finally, he poked a soft liner into left field for a single.

What happened next is the stuff of timeless World Series lore. With struggling Mark Teixeira at the plate and the infield playing an extreme shift, Damon decided to steal his way into scoring position. He broke on Lidge's first pitch, a slider; holding runners is not something the Phillies' closer does well. Catcher Carlos Ruiz snared the ball in the dirt but didn't have time to rise out of his crouch. He two-hopped a weak throw in front of third baseman Pedro Feliz, who picked it up about three feet in front of second base, leaning towards first base. Damon popped up out of his slide, the bag swiped cleanly, then alertly took off for third base when he saw no Phillie was covering. What made the play so brazen was that when he broke, Feliz was still less than three feet away; a faster infielder might have caught the 35-year-old Yankee, or at least made a desperate dive to attempt to do so. A better organized infield might have never allowed it; Jimmy Rollins was left to take responsibility for the mistake, not for the last time he'll be in that position if current trends continue.

It was a brilliant play, for not only did it put the go-ahead run 90 feet away, it took away Lidge's best weapon, his slider. He did throw one to Teixeira on his next pitch, but after evening the count, he plunked the Yankees' first baseman to put runners on the corners and set the table for the delicious confrontation with Rodriguez.

Up to that point, the game had been a memorable one, if something of a plodding affair as well. Up two games to one, the Yankees had jumped out to a 2-0 lead against Game Four starter Cliff Lee Joe Blanton, who yielded two hits and a run on his first six pitches, a Derek Jeter single, a Damon double, and a Teixeira groundout. The Yankees added another after Blanton plunked Rodriguez, the third time in two games the slugger had been hit by a pitch. It didn't look particularly intentional, but as A-Rod gazed towards his own bench as if to say, "Come on, guys, isn't it time we got even?" the umpires converged and decided to warn both benches. Jorge Posada followed with a sacrifice fly to plate Damon.

Pitching on three days' rest, and now enjoined from any type of retaliation, CC Sabathia plodded. He surrendered back-to-back one-out doubles by Shane Victorino and Chase Utley, then ran up his pitch count via an eight-pitch strikeout of Ryan Howard, a five-pitch intentional walk of Jayson Werth, and then a three-pitch strikeout of Raul Ibaņez. Though the Phillies only got the one run, they made a man who needed to conserve his bullets fire 24 pitches before it was all said and done.

Sabathia settled down for a couple of innings, but spent another 20 pitches getting into and out of further trouble in the fourth when Howard snapped an 0-for-9 slump with a sharp single, then boldly stole second base. Two outs later, Feliz-who came into the game hitting .143/.182/.310 for the playoffs-collected the first of his three hits on the night, scoring Howard to knot the game. Then it was the Yankees' turn to interrupt Blanton's flow. Nick Swisher worked a leadoff walk to start the fifth, snapping Blanton's streak of retiring 11 Yankees in a row. An infield single by Melky Cabrera-Chase Utley gloved the ball and tried to glove-flip it to Jimmy Rollins for the force, only to send it on an absurd arc over second base which he almost caught a few paces later-and then singles by Jeter and Damon gave the Yankees a 4-2 lead.

Still Sabathia labored, putting Rollins and Victorino on with nobody out in the fifth and having to walk through the lion's den of Utley, Howard, and Jayson Werth. In between about 17 different trips to the mound by Posada, he induced the two lefties to pop up to Jeter, then battled Werth to a seven-pitch strikeout, ending a 22-pitch inning. By that point, his pitch count was at 88, and he looked to have another inning in him at best despite manager Joe Girardi's claim that he might go as far as 110 or 120 pitches. Luckily for the Yankees, his mileage improved; a seven-pitch sixth induced Girardi to let the big man bat to lead off the seventh. He was one pitch away from a one-two-three inning, with Utley in a 1-2 hole, when the Phillies' slugger, who'd nicked him for a pair of solo homers in Game One, launched another one, this to deep right field to trim the lead to 4-3.

That ended Sabathia's night at 107 pitches, his shortest outing of the postseason, and his first allowing more than two runs. Whereas the Phillies' hitters had gone just 10-for-53 against lefties in Games One and Three for a .189/.268/.453 line, they went 7-for-27 with three walks and 12 total bases against the big man, who also generated only 10 swings and misses, his lowest total of the postseason. Still, he left with the lead, and when Damaso Marte got Howard to fly to left, the Yankees were six outs away from a victory.

They almost never got there. In the eighth, Girardi called upon Joba Chamberlain, who looked as though he was starting to rediscover his relief mojo as he blew away both Werth and Ibaņez with some 95-97 mph gas. He got ahead of Feliz 1-2 on three more heaters, but evened up the count when he started nibbling with sliders low outside the zone-admittedly, the kind of pitches a hacker like Feliz might fish for. Alas, the full count allowed Feliz to sit on the fastball, and he sat on a 97 mph one, crushing it to left field for a game-tying homer.

When the Yankees were down to their final out in the ninth, their skipper appeared prepared to reprise the mistake of another Joe in another Game Four by losing a game with somebody besides his best pitcher on the mound. He warmed up lefty Phil Coke in anticipation of pinch-hitter Matt Stairs leading off the bottom of the frame, and not until Damon's bold bolt for third did Mariano Rivera begin warming up. Only after all hell broke lose in the ninth did Girardi wind up with the right reliever. A night after using just five pitches to get two outs, Rivera needed only eight to get all three.

Johnny Damon's dash is what will likely be remembered years from now, and a well-deserved memory it will be, particularly after the tenacious at-bat in which he worked his way on base. But he's not the only hero of this ballgame. On the night after Halloween, Alex Rodriguez chased away some ghosts with his first World Series game-winning hit. He's now hitting .348/.483/.804 with six homers and 15 RBI this fall, and after all the drama that has dogged him since reports of his steroid usage broke, he produced on the game's biggest stage in the biggest moment of his career. It may never be enough for some if his critics-it wasn't Game Seven in the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees trailing, and he didn't pledge to donate his entire annual salary to an orphanage in the postgame jubilation, after all-but those left standing to point a finger at him for being somehow unclutch are completely out of ammunition now.

And the Yankees are one win away from their 27th World Championship. The path to their fourth victory isn't as straightforward as it might otherwise be, given that tonight they'll face ace Cliff Lee, who nearly shut them out in Game One, while hoping that a less-than-fully-rested A.J. Burnett can string together his second straight glowing start, this time against a lineup that got a good look at his repertoire and his pattern of first pitch strikes. It may not be the ideal scenario for the Yankees, but it's one for which the Phillies would certainly trade.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

Related Content:  Yankees,  The Who

14 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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BrettG

Many people forget that Alex Rodriguez moved over from SS to 3B when he came to the Yankees even though he was (and probably still would be) a better SS than Derek Jeter. There was no thought about it from Alex Rodriguez, he just switched positions.

Then there are those who don't like that Alex Rodriguez isn't a team leader. Let's think about that for a second. When Alex Rodriguez came to the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter was captain - an honor not given to another Yankee since Don Mattingly in 1995. For Rodriguez to come in and try to be the team leader would have most certainly resulted in the New York media in a frenzy. Alex didn't do that and has let Jeter be the team leader. And for that, he is labeled as a good player who doesn't lead his team instead of a great player who knows his role on his team. A similar thing would have happened if he insisted on playing SS and pushing Jeter to a new position.

Also, let's not forget the classy act he did in the 2001 All-Star game. Did people forget that it was Alex Rodriguez who came up with the idea of having Cal Ripken Jr. play SS for an inning in that game?

I guess a lot of people made up their mind about one of the greatest players in the game without giving him a chance.

Nov 02, 2009 11:54 AM
rating: 7
 
pbconnection

He's not completely likable and he doesn't always say the right thing. He's awkward in his attempts to live up to his own self image.

I hate it when people play arm-chair-psychiatrist, but I would guess that much of his awkwardness comes from being the child of a single mother. Lacking a male role model is something that significantly affects development and I think he's struggled to fill his undeniable role as a role model, as all star athletes are made out to be.

His work ethic an effort on the field are not questioned, and they never have been. That's all I ask of my team's players. He gives it his all and that's enough for me.

Nov 02, 2009 13:26 PM
rating: -1
 
Richie
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"(T)hose left standing to point a finger at him for being somehow unclutch are completely out of ammunition now."

The one hit does that? Meaning that if he'd made out there, you clowns would've then conceded the issue from your end, or even said that maybe it was possible he was indeed unclutch?

You guys are pathetic enough on your hot-button issues that, even though I agree with your side of most of them, it's painfully uncomfortable to be alongside you.

Nov 02, 2009 12:17 PM
rating: -20
 
pgaskill

I think the comment referred to this postseason in total, not just the one hit yesterday, which was merely (perhaps) the final nail in the coffin.

Nov 02, 2009 12:58 PM
rating: 2
 
husier
(90)

I'd take Alex Rodriguez on my team anytime, and as a baseball fan, that's the highest complement I can hand the guy.

Nov 02, 2009 13:47 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Hey, I'd take Rodriguez on my team, but I'm not giving him too many points for character. He claimed he wanted to leave Seattle to be on a contending team, then signed with the Rangers, he used steroids, he tried to slap a ball out of a pitcher's mitt while running to first and he cheated on his wife.

He has done some classy things, the Ripken All Star game moment is probably my favorite. He's been criticized, sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly. He also knew when he took Yankees dollars that he'd have to deal with the Yankee media.

As good of a player as Rodriguez is, he was bound at some point in his career to have a postseason like this. So, I don't give him a lot of extra props because he performed as everyone expected he should.

In any event, he's human. Great player, sometimes a not-so-great character, and just because he gets a "clutch" hit, I'm not going to play a bunch of revisionist games and completely ignore what happened prior in his career.

Nov 02, 2009 18:03 PM
rating: -1
 
rlamoureux
(145)

I would restrict my judgment on a player to his ONfield activities. Said differently, of all his transgressions above, the "slappy" play (which we Red Sox fans have had great fun with ever since) is the only one that makes a difference to me. The steroid use counts too, I suppose, insofar as it affects the onfield play so directly. When all is said and done, though, I would think that A-Rod's supporters AND detractors would be able to look at what he has accomplished on the field and make a judgment accordingly.

Nov 03, 2009 09:05 AM
rating: 0
 
hyprvypr
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Alex Rodriguez is a terrible human being. You can't argue it - it's over and settled - virtually every thing he has done publically and privately in his career outside of baseball is disgraceful. He's a pathological liar, a cheater, an attention-whore and disloyal.

On the field, he is a great player and finally helping to prove that 'clutch hitting' isn't real. Baseball players are streaky and sometimes their stats are put under a magnifying glass because they didn't perform well for a couple dozen games in October.

Nov 03, 2009 11:11 AM
rating: -8
 
R.A.Wagman

Do you truly believe that you know anything - at all - about him as a human being?
Furthermore, do you think that anything he (ever) does off the field that isn't sensational would be reported?

Nov 03, 2009 11:28 AM
rating: 3
 
hyprvypr
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Pathological liar:

"I want to play for a winner" - Then quickly signs with a perennial-last place team for a record setting contract.

Cheater:

". I did take a banned substance. And for that, I am very sorry and deeply regretful."[6][7] Rodriguez said he could not be sure of the name(s) of the substance(s) he had used"

Incidentally, it also shows his deep rooted pathological lying: Only an idiot would take unknown substances when you were already signed to the largest contract in sports. He knew exactly what he was taking, and knew exactly why.

Attention-whore:

This is also clearly well documented.

"When people write [bad things] about me, I don't know if it's [because] I'm good-looking, I'm biracial, I make the most money, I play on the most popular team"

And of course he was disloyal to 1. Mariner's fans, his wife, baseball, etc. etc.



Wagman, I destroyed you. It would be prudent if you didn't post ignorant defenses without any mental comprehension to support your rhetoric. C'mon, get out, it's time to go!

Nov 03, 2009 11:46 AM
rating: -7
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

"It would be prudent if you didn't post ignorant defenses without any mental comprehension to support your rhetoric."

Congratulations, you now lead this comment thread in thesaurus swallowing. And Wikipedia copying.

Nov 03, 2009 14:56 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

These are data points. Nothing of the above (Wikipedia or not) proves anything. Appreciate your attempts at turning Baseball Prospectus into a radio call-in-show, though.

If you're ready to figure out what "terrible human being" is, look up names like Hitler, Adolf and Bin Laden, Osama.
Media pandering does not make someone a "pathological liar" nor does being a supposed "idiot" for the instances you pointed out.

For a sense of perspective, may I suggest you look up the atrocities in Sudan, terror in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan or other more weighty matters that could possibly be found on the front page of most daily newspapers.

Somehow, I don't feel destroyed.

Nov 03, 2009 15:52 PM
rating: 8
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

These facts regarding A-Rod's horrific, narcasistic personality and awful decisions are undisputed and your continued support for this shameful off-field behavior only reinforces your infatuation for anything New York.

No one is comparing him to a mass-murderer but his off-field behavior is indefensible.

Nov 03, 2009 18:40 PM
rating: -5
 
R.A.Wagman

All I can say is whatever. This is no longer anything worth responding to.
But I'll throw you a bone - I live in, and a fan of, one of the Yankees divisional rivals.

Nov 03, 2009 19:27 PM
rating: 3
 
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