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AL East: A-Rod to the Rescue
The Yankees barely survived the chilly conditions in New York during the first week of the season with a 2-3 record, and they fared that well largely due to the contributions of the man that Yankee fans love to hate: Alex Rodriguez. The Bombers have looked old so far, and not just because of injuries to Johnny Damon (strained calves) and Hideki Matsui (hamstring).
The fielding has been awful. Derek Jeter has won three straight Gold Gloves, but even the most ardent Jeter supporters would concede his reputation had something to do with that. Still, after being a subpar shortstop for many years, Jeter has actually improved over the past three seasons. Is age catching up to him? Jeter's range, particularly to his left, is limited, but his errors this season have come on throws. On Saturday, Melvin Mora stole second base because neither Jeter or Robinson Cano covered the bag. Limited range, even poor throws are one thing, but when was the last time you saw Jeter commit a mental error?
The starting pitching has been even worse. Through five games no Yankees pitcher has worked into the sixth inning, and only Kei Igawa made it through the fifth. Starters have allowed five, four, six, seven and five runs, respectively. The Bombers are fortunate that the bullpen was restocked over the winter. They are getting plenty of work early -— even Andy Pettitte threw an inning of relief on Sunday, his throw day, for good measure.
In spite of all this ugliness, the loudest boos at Yankee Stadium were reserved for A-Rod. On Wednesday night against the Rays, Rodriguez came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Yanks trailing by a run. There were two out and the bases were loaded. Brian Stokes had just gotten Jeter and Bobby Abreu to tap back to the mound weakly. Now, he left a pitch out over the plate to Rodriguez, who got under it and popped it up. Rodriguez was showered with boos.
This is not an old story, of course. Rodriguez is booed in New York, because, well, New Yorkers like to boo. He's also booed because so much is expected of him. He is the Big Ticket star with the Hall of Fame talent and the salary to match. Like Jeter, the next time he doesn't hustle down the line trying to beat out a ground ball will be the first. Like Paul O'Neill, he berates himself mercilessly after he's made an out.
Rodriguez is the biggest star the Yankees have had since Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield in the early 1980s. Rodriguez may display some of Jackson's insecurities -— he really wants to be liked, has to feel needed -— but is probably more similar to Winfield, who George Steinbrenner once dubbed "Mr. May." No matter how good a player Rodriguez is -— and going into his fourth year at the hot corner, it's safe to say he's the best offensive third baseman in Yankee history -— the prevailing sentiment in New York is that he can't deliver in the clutch.
Which isn't entirely true. Rodriguez has had plenty of big hits for the Yankees. Just not enough. He's also failed plenty in tense situations late in ball games. All of which makes him the most dramatic Yankee to follow. His at-bats, especially in the Bronx, are charged with a kind expectation and energy that brings Reggie's heyday in the Bronx Zoo to mind.
Rodriguez's game-winning grand slam against Chris Ray and Orioles on Saturday afternoon is just the kind of Reggie moment Rodriguez has been dying for. He was down in the count, 1-2, and many fans were likely preparing for the worst. The Yankees only needed a single to at least tie, and probably win, the game. But Rodriguez did them one better, he hit one in the center-field black, on a similar pitch to the one he missed against Stokes days earlier. Which is what Yankee fans want. They want headlines. Rodriguez homered in his first at-bat on Sunday too, this time to right-center field, a sure sign that he is feeling good. Even more to the point, the Yankees need Rodriguez now more than ever. Without him, they could still be looking for their first win.
Curt Schilling and Erik Bedard rebounded after their Opening Day duds, with nice performances on Sunday. The Red Sox were led by David Ortiz (go figure), and Jonathan Papelbon. Boston's offense was held-in-check over the weekend in Texas. The story of the week for Sox was the sterling debut of Daisuke Matsuzaka, which left viewers delighted, grasping for comparisons. Matsuzaka has five or six B-plus or A pitches, and looks to be one of the most entertaining performers in the game. He might not be as great as Pedro Martinez was in his prime, but he carries himself in the same kind of regal manner.
Roy Halladay also earned his first win of the season yesterday, as the Jays took two of three in Tampa. The Big Hurt hit his first homer for the Jays over the weekend, but Mike Rutsey writes that outfielder Alex Rios is falling back into old habits.
Finally, the Devil Rays came back against B.J. Ryan on Friday night to beat the Jays in the Tampa home opener. The win featured contributions from the youngsters -- Delmon Young and B.J. Upton. Earlier in the week, Elijah Dukes hit a frozen-rope home run at Yankee Stadium that would have done Gary Sheffield, Jim Rice and Winfield proud.
Alex Belth is an SI.com columnist and the founder of Bronx Banter.
Labels: AL East
posted by SI.com | View comments |
If the Yankees are 2-3 after a week of terrible starting pitching, then there is cause for optimism. New pitchers will emerge as will new outfielders, and many problems will solve themselves.Consider the Mets with senior citizens Alou, Delgado, LoDuca, Glavine, El Duque, Valentin and Billy Wagner and tell me this team is in trouble. Expect both the Yankees and Mets to win their divisions and possibly meet in the World Series.
Let's get the facts straight on Jeter's "mental error"...first of all, Mora stole the base on Friday and not Saturday. It was also a delayed steal (he did not start running until the ball was actually upon the batter), which is designed to catch the infielders (and catcher) off guard.
As for the A-Rod pop-up with the bases loaded...you seem to be implying that both Jeter and Abreu were not booed for essentially doing the same thing. Well, it would have been pretty hard to boo Jeter since he actually reached base and no out was recorded on the play (pitcher chose to try and get the force out at third base)...the bases were also not loaded. Also this sequence of events occured on Thursday night, not Wednesday as mentioned in the blog.
Well, which is it? Did Jeter win his last 3 Golden Gloves because of reputation or because he showed improvement over the last 3 years? Maybe he's not the one with mental deficiencies. Why don't you try writing using facts instead of using conjecture and innuendos? Oh, but if you did that, no one would read you, would they? You'd just be another reporter.
Woah, easy guys. If any of you had actually been following Jeter more than what is reported on ESPN and the news (check the stats that actually tell you something) you'd know that what Alex said is dead on: Jeter is a relatively bad fielder who HAS improved the last three seasons but not to gold glove caliber levels...
So james, why don't you try checking your facts and chill...
I think that all of you are completely missing the point of this article. Its not about whether or not Jeter deserved his gold gloves. It's about how bad the Yankees are looking. If they are relying at this point on Igawa and the possible adition of Roger Clemens to make their rotation even average then theya re going to have a very hard time winning the division. I think that the Blue Jays even look better because they are yoinger and have a ton more upside. But the Yankees are going to have a very hard time with the Red Sox and the Blue Jays in their division.
People need to give A-Rod a break. He tries just like everyone else. I know he's paid the big bucks to come through in the clutch, but come on even Jeter isn't clutch all the time, as this season is showing. I mean A-Rod helps them win there 2 games, thanks to his bat and because he failed to win a third and suddenly he's the one who sucks, rather than the pitching. So if Yankee fans wants someone to yell at, then yell at the starting pitchers and learn to appreciate A-Rod more because you know you'll be crying once he's gone.
It's amazing how a guy can't write a realistic article about how the Yanks MIGHT be mortal without getting mauled by starry eyed fans who still believe they're infallible. Deep down, you know Alex is right about it all, so you go after him about the dates to lessen the credibility of the article? Come on, man. Jeter's range has always been somewhat limited (which is not to say he's inept), and there's never been any secret about it. Try not to get up in arms when someone says it outloud - even the 500 pound gorilla doesn't seem to mind.
I'm sick of hearing about how much A-Rod has been booed this season. He has been given standing ovations before every plate appearance and he has had two curtain calls so far. On Saturday just about everyone in the stadium was screaming his name during the at-bat and right now even the tabloids have been laying off him here in New York.
I am assuming that the majority of people that are quick to point out Jeter's 3 errors or the Yankee's not soo stellar pitching dont live in New York... If they did, they would take into account the fact that its been cold enough to snow consistantly for the last week so going from warm weather florida to cold weather wintery new york might just be a factor... 5 games into the season is not going to make or break a season by any means!
Typical sports writer looking for an angle but unable to get his facts straight.
There was no Yankke game on Wednesday .
That game was a 1:00 pm game which was rained out.
The game he was talkng about was THURSDAY night. I was at that game and A-ROD received more cheers than boos.
I guess jealous sportswriters have to smack down somebady to mask their own insecurities.
Listen why don't you get a real job.Because you area horrible sportswriter.
2-3 against teams they should have gone 4-1 against. They beat the pitcher they shouldn't have (Kazmir) so could have gone 1-4. Their starting pitching is a mess and now Matsui is hurt. They now face a team that can hit and pitch, and face potential playoff teams in every series the rest of the month except for two more with the D-Rays. All these teams can hit and hit well and have better pitching that Tampa and Baltimore. The Yanks are in trouble.
I'm sick of hearing how much A-Rod has been booed this season. Yankee fans have been giving him standing ovations before every at-bat, and he has been given two curtain calls so far this season. During his at-bat with the bases loaded Saturday, just about every fan was screaming his name willing him on. Don't let a few idiots misguide your view of us Yankee fans.
You are all the same people who were saying the same garbage last year the first two months of the season then they blew the doors off the division. IT IS THE FIRST WEEK OF THE SEASON. STOP!
You state that Jeter was a 'subpar shortstop for many years but that he has actually improved over the past 3'. However, if you consider A-Rod a great shortstop, compare their career fielding stats very closely. You will find very little difference between the two (A-Rod with slightly better range, especially when he was younger).
Good for A-Rod! As a Yankees fan, I was irratated that no veteran on that team stood up for A-Rod publicly. He goes out there and gives it his all 100%.
So A-Rod has the biggest contract in baseball. The Yankees are actually paying Jeter and Giambi more this season than A-Rod. What clutch moments come to mind when you think of Giambi? A-Rod can at least PLAY defense.
...or, maybe the yanks' inept pitching will lead them to finish closer to 4th in the division than 1st this year! Just a thought :-)
All the praise for Dice-K but the Royals are an inexperienced team. I will wait to reseve judgement till his firts start againest the Yankees. Once he faces a real experienced lineup than we will see how he does. On the yankees side they are very lucky not to have gone 0-5, which could have been very possiable. The Blue Jays do not have enough offense to contend with the Sox or Yankees, and watch out for the devil rays once they get some pitching that is a scary team.
Hang on, the Blue jays don't have enough offense to contend?
Overbay, Wells, Thomas, Glaus, Rios... ya, you're right - they're weak.
yeah web gem 12, this is not 1992. the jays should lobby to play in the NL east, not the AL. they will not have what it takes in the end. keep dreaming.
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