Thursday, June 15, 2006

A-Rod and the Fallacy of the "Not Clutch" Label

by Scott Silversten

What will today’s caveat be?

Sometimes it’s the opponent, or maybe the inning. If the hit comes with the game tied, or the Yankees winning by a run, then it cannot be a “clutch” situation. Nationally televised games are preferable, unless it’s raining, because as we all in the rain just aren’t that big!

This is not meant to defend Alex Rodriguez, only to point out that his big moments always, ALWAYS, come with a disclaimer. And this ridiculous mentality will vanish only when A-Rod delivers a game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the World Series against the New York Mets.

NOTE: That hit must come with the Yankees trailing in the game. If the game is tied, the pressure would obviously be minimal.

For those that believe the previous four paragraphs are just hyperbole, you are not paying close enough attention. Rodriguez dominated the 2004 American League Division Series, but that was only the Minnesota Twins. He was the Yankees’ best offensive weapon in the first 3 ½ games of that year’s AL Championship Series, but of course, only the last 3 ½ are what matters.

Rodriguez hit a huge ninth-inning homer in Boston last year off Curt Schilling. However, let us all not forget that the game was only tied, Schilling was still battling back from his ankle injury and games in July are just meaningless exhibitions until the real season starts in October.

Sure, the Yankees won the AL East in 2005 by virtue of winning the regular season series with the Red Sox by one game, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a good caveat!

That brings us to 2006, a year in which the Yankees offense has been decimated by injuries. Outfielders Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui will be out of the lineup until at least September, and both Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi have missed time recently after being hit on their hands. This is the time for A-Rod to step up. This is the big moment! This is why he gets $252 million!

Instead, Rodriguez is slumping. He’s letting his team down. He never performs in the big moment. Never gets clutch hits. The only problem with this argument is that fans and media only apply “big” and “clutch” adjectives to the times in which Rodriguez fails.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Yankees were in trouble. A long time ago, a month far, far away...or May if you want to get technical. After dropping two of three at Shea Stadium to the Mets – remember, Mets games are bigger than the rest – the Bronx Bombers proceeded to get pounded, 9-5, on a Monday night in Boston.

The next day’s newspapers had sports journalists delivering last rites. The Yankees were flailing and Boston was set to grab a stranglehold on the division. Mediocre Jaret Wright was to pitch on Tuesday, followed by struggling Randy Johnson. The Red Sox would sweep and virtually end New York’s season.

In what to date arguably stands as the Yankees’ biggest game of the year, the biggest hit was delivered by Rodriguez, whose three-run, seventh-inning homer stood up as the difference in the Yankees’ 7-5 triumph. Here’s the caveat: The Yankees were winning 4-1 at the time, so “clutch” that home run cannot be.

That victory began a 7-1 stretch for the Yankees to close out the month. During those eight games, Rodriguez was at his best. Following a troubling loss to Kansas City, he belted two homers the following afternoon in a rout. Of course, neither homer really counts. Why?

1. It was the Royals.
2. Neither came in the seventh inning or later.
3. The game was a blowout (never mind the fact that the two home runs are THE REASON it was a blowout).

Rodriguez remained hot the following week, helping the Yanks win three straight in Detroit against the team with baseball’s best record, the Tigers. Of course, the Tigers can’t be for real. It’s not like he had that success against, say, the Mets.

You see where this is going? Rodriguez has been a slight disappointment in pinstripes, but other than possibly the first baseman in St. Louis, no smart baseball person in their right mind would even think of trading A-Rod for anyone in the game. He is a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame performer, won the AL Most Valuable Player last year, is one of the hardest-working players in the game and a man who has never shied away from the responsibility that comes with a $252 contract.

Still, he is hated. If there was ever a player Yankees fans should embrace, it’s Rodriguez. He is a more talented player, by far, than the beloved Derek Jeter. In fact, it’s becoming more and more obvious that the worst decision Rodriguez ever made was deferring to Jeter and shifting to third base. He is doomed to forever live in the shadow the Yankees shortstop and captain.

Rodriguez could win four World Series rings, but of course, that likely means Jeter would have eight fingers adorned in jewelry. No amount of MVPs will live in baseball lore like some of Jeter’s most memorable moments.

Along with the rest of his teammates, Rodriguez struggled at the plate in the final three games of that 2004 ALCS, and the worst moment in Yankees history is still being blamed on the third baseman. Now, no matter what he does, it will never be enough.

With the Cleveland Indians in the Bronx this week, it is obvious who the Yankees need to replace Rodriguez. He should be immediately traded for...Aaron Boone.

Now there is a clutch hitter!

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, are you an idiot. Take a look at the stats. A-Rod has a very tough time with runners in scoring position and 2 out, and after the 7th inning in tight ballgames. For the record, the Yankees will not make the playoffs in 2006. A-Rod will, rightly, bear a good amount of the blame.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto. Rodriguez is also a publicity hound. Watched him in a post game (nationally televised) moment last year - instead of immediately celebrating with his teammates after a win - he ran - RAN! - to the sports girl next to the dugout for the post game interview. Where would Jeter go first?

I saw Mantle get booed after each and every strike out and cheered after every home run. This is not the same.

This is Winfield all over again.

Saturday, June 17, 2006  

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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
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