As unbelievable as it may sound, but Alex Rodriguez had a decent, low-key, non-media circus of a season. A-Rod ended the season with a quiet, .286 BA, 30 HR and 100 RBI. On Sunday, in the final game of the regular season, A-Rod set an American League record with 7 RBI in 1 inning. A-Rod hit a 3-run home run and a grand slam home run in the 6th inning of the Yankees 10-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
The overall major league record is 8 RBI in one inning set by Fernando Tatis, who hit two grand slams in one inning for the St. Louis Cardinals, back in 1999. Tatis, who is now a utility player for the Mets, is the only player to ever hit 2 grand slams in one inning. These are the types of records that require 2 things: a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time.
But nonetheless, it's always impressive when someone does something that has never been done before.
Anyway, I'd have to say that since A-Rod joined the Yankees in 2004, this is the first season where he hasn't really been the center of attention. And actually, it's been good. Here in New York, after a while A-Rodmania starts to get old and tiring.
However, it didn't start out that way. The big steroids scandal during spring training led everyone to believe that it was going to be another one of those years where A-Rod's name would be plastered all over the newspapers and all over the sports talk show circuit. But his sudden hip surgery, which shelved him for the first month of the season, may have been a blessing in disguise because it took the focus off of A-Rod and the whole steroids thing faded away.
A-Rod pretty much disappeared into obscurity during the first month of the season, enabling the focus to be around struggling first baseman, Mark Teixeira and mega-free agent signings, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.
I also noticed that the surgery kind of compelled the media to cut A-Rod some slack and not be overly hard on him. And you could hear it in A-Rod's language-- it's like he almost kept telling them, "bare with me, I'm hurting" and the media swallowed it up.
But A-Rod's biggest accomplishment this year was proving how important his presence (not his bat) is. On May 8th, the day he returned to the line-up, the Yankees were under .500 (14-15) and in 3rd place behind the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. Teixeira was having a horrible season, his batting average was below the infamous Mendoza Line (.200). In fact, on May 12, Teixeira was hitting a paltry, .191.
Once A-Rod was inserted in the line-up, opponents were forced to pitch to Teixeira (b.) and once he started seeing better pitches, his numbers began to sky-rocket. He ended up with an MVP-caliber season, .292 BA, 39 HR, 122 RBI, 103 Runs Scored.
Prior to A-Rod's return, the Yankees seemed like a lost team in search of a spark plug. In his first at-bat, A-Rod hit a storybook home run against the Baltimore Orioles that seemed to send a message that is still echoing today. I actually saw the game and the difference in attitudes in the clubhouse, after the home run, was extremely noticeable. It seemed like everyone got their second wind and said to themselves, "Ok, now our season really begins."
The Yankees were an astounding 89-44 the rest of the way, ending up with a major league-best, 103-59 regular season. Now the Yankees are just waiting for the winner of the Detroit Tigers-Minnesota Twins one game playoff to begin their quest for a 27th world championship.
As for the importance of A-Rod's presence-- the Yankees, the media, the fans and everyone who follows baseball, including myself, took notice and "a new-found respect" for A-Rod was born.
Photos courtesy of the AP