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Torre hit .363 with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971 and .289 the following season, giving him a deep understanding of the ebb and flow of performance. With veteran players especially he operates like an old fisherman checking the tide charts, believing that the worst of times only means the best is to come. Rodriguez will hit, he thought, and he kept telling his third baseman exactly that.
For all the scorn heaped upon Giambi for his ties to the BALCO steroid scandal, he is a strong clubhouse voice because he plays with a passion that stirs teammates and even opponents. This season, for instance, he reprimanded his former Oakland A's teammate, Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, for occasionally showing up late to games out of frustration over another losing Baltimore season. "You're better than that," he told Tejada. So Giambi's gripe about Rodriguez sounded an alarm with Torre.
"What Jason said made me realize that I had to go at it a different way," Torre says. "When the rest of the team starts noticing things, you have to get it fixed. That's my job. I like to give individuals what I believe is the room they need, but when I sense that other people are affected, teamwise, I have to find a solution to it."
The players' confidence in Rodriguez was eroding as they sensed that he did not understand how much his on-field struggles were hurting the club. Said one Yankees veteran, "It was always about the numbers in [ Seattle and Texas] for him. And that doesn't matter here. Winning is all you're judged on here."
Before Giambi went to Torre, he had scolded Rodriguez after a 13-5 win in Boston on Aug. 19. Irked that Rodriguez left four runners on base in the first three innings against a shaky Josh Beckett, Giambi thought A-Rod needed to be challenged. "We're all rooting for you and we're behind you 100 percent," Giambi recalls telling Rodriguez, "but you've got to get the big hit."
"You f--- call those hits?" Giambi said. "You had two f--- dinkers to rightfield and a ball that bounced over the third baseman! Look at how many pitches you missed!
"When you hit three, four or five [in the order], you have to get the big hits, especially if they're going to walk Bobby [ Abreu] and me. I'll help you out until you get going. I'll look to drive in runs when they pitch around me, go after that 3-and-1 pitch that might be a ball. But if they're going to walk Bobby and me, you're going to have to be the guy."
(Asked about Giambi's pep talk, Rodriguez said he could not remember what was discussed, though he added, "I'm sure we had a conversation.")