Saturday, October 07, 2006

Repeat After A-Rod: "I sucked!"

"You kind of get tired of giving the other team credit. At some point you've got to look in the mirror and say, 'I sucked."

- Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez told the media after another terrible October ended with New York's elimination at the hands of the Detroit Tigers Saturday.

One week into the post-season, A-Rod can be comforted by not being at all alone in his disappointment.

Consider the following:

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers, swept from the playoffs in three games by the New York Mets, extended their dry spell another year, having not won a postseason series since 1988.

  • Dodgers manager Grady Little incredibly put himself in the middle of yet another postseason second-guess feeding frenzy with a handful of questionable moves, including using starting pitching as middle relievers and letting starter Greg Maddux bat in a game L.A. trailed, 3-0, in win-or-go-home Game 3.

  • Joe Beimel, the Dodgers' indispensible lefthanded setup man, committed the inexcusable mistake of stepping out on the eve of the series against the Mets after curfew, then ending his season by slashing his pitching hand on a broken glass in a bar room. Beimel then lied to the team about where the injury occurred, angering teammates and Little once the deception was revealed. Undoubtedly that anger will fester long after the Dodgers pack up and head into the postseason, because Beimel's absence forced many of the awkward - and ultimately fruitless - moves made by the hamstrung Little.

  • Good guy Torii Hunter made some critical flubs in the Minnesota Twins' shortlived ALDS series against the Oakland A's, most notably the ill-conceived decision to dive for a Mark Kotsay liner to center in Game 2. The Gold Glove centerfielder missed the ball and the resulting inside-the-park home run broke a tie that led to a backbreaker of a defeat for the Twins.

  • Then there was A-Rod - 1-for-14 (.071) with no RBI in four games for the Yankees. The player who's opening foray into New York was to draw a distinction between himself and Derek Jeter - a "No. 2 hitter" - started the series batting sixth in the order and finished it batting eighth. None of Yankees manager Joe Torre's early attempts to ease the pressure from the high-priced Rodriguez and late attempts to hide a troubled bat worked. Tigers pitchers found the slumping A-Rod time and again. So, too, will the Bronx cheers, guaranteed to follow A-Rod into a long, restless off-season.

Paper Tigers No More

Jim Leyland hoisted from the ground by by his joyous Detroit Tigers team. MLB Photos

Start spreading the news. Motown mowed down Millionaire's Row, without mercy or apology.

That they did it without sneers or cockiness or disrespect should make it hard for the most disappointed New York Yankees fans to begrudge Jimmy Leyland or the young Tigers anything.

How could you not feel a tug for the grizzled manager who pulled himself off the slag heap to come back to the game and show a young team how to win? Or the impressionable youths who listened when he told them 100-loss seasons didn't have to be the norm?

Winning 95 regular-season games would have satisfied Motown. And settling for that would have fulfilled their part of what was scripted in a postseason test against the league's winningest team.

But the Tigers did not settle. Because they did not, the Tigers showed you just how much fun watching an underdog overcome can be, wearing the self-appointed label of "freshman team" but refusing to buy into the cynicism that they somehow did not belong on the same field as the mighty Bronx Bombers.

The Tigers culled a lot of karma from perceived slights.

Forced to explain their miserable crawl through a last two weeks of September time and again.

Forced to justify why they even bothered to show up to play the best team money can buy.

Forced to hotel hop in midtown Manhattan Wednesday night after a rainout delayed their getaway game.

In the end, though, there was nothing forced about the celebrating the Tigers did when they swept away the Yankees in the American League Division Series, 3 games to 1. Detroit reeled off three wins to seal the deal.

Three wins that came after the rainout and the communications snafu that went with it.

Three wins that came despite the fact that no one gave one-time Yankees washout Kenny Rogers an iota of a chance in Game 3, either against Hall of Fame certainty Randy Johnson or the Yankees' latest Murderers' Row lineup.

But Rogers and a host of young pitchers nearly young enough to be his sons stymied the vaunted Yankees' offense. They even made Derek Jeter look human after his five hits in the Yankees' Game 1 win. And they certainly made Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield, among others, look nothing short of pathetic as the Detroit staff limited New York to six runs in the final three games.

Once the clinching was done, there came the final touches, vingettes that had to warm the most jaded down-on-pro sports Grinch.

Youngsters wearing the uniforms of Kaline and Greenberg, Trammell and Whitaker, Horton and McLain, carrying Leyland off the field on their sturdy shoulders.

Those same youngsters circling the field spritzing delirious fans with champagne.

Rogers hoisting his old bones up on the dugout at Tiger Stadium to do the same champagne celebration with fans.

Baseball purists couldn't have asked for a better ending to this big-market, small-market dance. And Hollywood couldn't have topped the ending. It was downright Capra-esque.

Next Blue Light Special: A-Rod?

With every hitless post-season at-bat, Alex Rodriguez comes closer to having a million dollar question answered.

Well, actually a $16 million-dollar question, as in how much of A-Rod's $16 million-a-year salary will Yankees owner George Steinbrenner be willing to eat in order to make the third baseman go away?

Now, most fans believe A-Rod could and would shore up most any lineup with sheer namepower alone. Bet Phillies fans would sell their souls to see the bat that produced 35 home runs and 121 RBIs this season nestled in behind Ryan Howard in batting order.

The perception sometimes kicks reality's butt. And the perception of A-Rod in the five boroughs of New York is that this player cannot protect a teammate in a lineup when he can't protect his own psyche from the yips. New York City is rough, but not that rough. Yet A-Rod's torment often has reduced him to a figure whose contitution seems no more sturdy than a wet noodle.

Steinbrenner could gag , eating all that crow and cash, but, really, will the Yankees have any choice but to move the game's version of Captain Queeg? The drumbeat among Yankees fans has already begun. A 1-for-11 start with four strikeouts assured that in the Yankees' first three games against the Detroit Tigers in the shock of an American League Division Series. So, too, did two Yankees' losses in the series' three games.

One more loss, one more early exit from a postseason they were supposed to dominate and the Yankees will likely not be merciful, expecially to the player fans in the Bronx never shy away from vilifying, anyway. So don't be surprised to see the Yankees concede the day and see if there is another easy touch, I mean team, willing to take on a Psychology 101 project.

Then the only question will be, how much will Steinbrenner pay to get A-Rod out of town? The bet here says that the amount the Boss will agree to swallow goes up exponentially with each failed October at-bat by A-Rod.

The Boss, of course, bit off a big chunk of lettuce when the Yankees acquired Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers in February 2002 return for Alfonso Soriano and a promise to absorb $112 million of the $179 million still owed on what was originally a 10-year, $252 million pact A-Rod signed with Texas in 2000.

That's an average of $16 million a year - $1 million more than the entire Florida Marlins team earned this season. And the Yankees will be funneling money A-Rod's way until 2025 - an IOU that likely won't go away easy, even should A-Rod wind up playing for another team.

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