It’s no secret that Alex Rodriguez, like Barry Bonds, like Roger Clemens and like Manny Ramirez was a great and gifted player long before his name became associated with performance enhancing drugs. Out of those names mentioned only Rodriguez has avoided any penalties or courtroom entanglements so far. As we all know, the reasons for becoming involved with PEDs can be as infinite as the color spectrum. Conversely, this isn’t about the steroid issue.
The New York Yankees, for all of the drama A-Rod brings into the clubhouse for both his on and off field antics, are a better team with him in the lineup than on the sidelines. No one knew how the Yankees would respond following an examination of A-Rod’s right hip, which revealed a cyst and a partially torn labrum that would require some kind of surgery to repair it. After a further examination by Dr. Marc Philippon of Vale, CO it was determined Rodriguez could have a less invasive surgery to clean up the hip in order to play this year and after the season undergo a more thorough procedure to completely restore the hip.
A-Rod underwent surgery on March 9 and was expected to miss approximately 9 to 10 weeks. That would’ve projected his return to the club around mid-May if everything went according to plan. In the meantime the Yankees started the season with journeyman Cody Ransom playing the hot corner. Ransom, although talented with a glove, was not an offensive charge in the lineup. Ransom’s offense was pretty offensive. Before he went on the disabled list with a torn quadriceps muscle Ransom was hitting .180 with no home runs and 6 RBI in 50 trips to the plate.
Also feeling the effects of a missing Alex Rodriguez has been Mark Teixeira. Teixeira was brought in during the off season to replace an aging Jason Giambi at first base. Teixeira signed a huge 8-year deal with New York to provide offense and upgrade the defense Giambi couldn’t provide.
“Tex” had a good spring training, and although he is regarded as a notorious slow starter at the beginning of the year (career .249 BA including 2009) it was hoped that his hot spring would carry over into the regular season. However, with the absence of A-Rod Teixeira has struggled. In April, without Rodriguez to protect him, Teixeira saw a lot of breaking balls and pitches off the plate. Tex ended the month with a .200 average with 3 home runs and 10 RBI. He struck out 12 times or one strikeout per 5. 83 at bats.
His struggles continued going into May as Teixeira’s average continued to plummet. By May 12 Teixeira was hitting just .191. His strikeout total had jumped to 25 in 109 at bats (every 4.36 AB). Frustrated by his lack of production Teixeira began hearing the boos from fans as he looked completely lost at times in the batter’s box.
However, on May 8, a week before he was projected to return, A-Rod made his first appearance of the 2009 campaign. Facing the Baltimore Orioles and RHP Jeremy Guthrie Rodriguez made a dramatic statement as he hit the first pitch he saw out of the park to give the Yankees 3-0 lead. In one swing A-Rod lifted the spirits of the entire team, which had been scuffling from the opening bell.
Prior to May 8 the Yankees were 4.5 games out of first place, standing in 3rd place behind the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox with a 14-15 record. They had been embarrassed by the Red Sox losing five straight times both in Boston and New York. They had a habit of getting behind in games or if leading the game, losing the lead and then losing the game.
Since A-Rod’s return the Yankee clubhouse seems to have refocused and reenergized. In the past 9 games, with Rodriguez in the lineup, the Bombers have posted a 7-2 record. They took 2-of-3 from the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, 2-of-3 from the AL East Division leading Blue Jays and after coming from behind again today hold a 3-0 series lead over the visiting Minnesota Twins. The Yankees go for the Sweep on Monday. More on that series later.
Although, A-Rod has struggled so far with his timing at the plate, because of his inability to perform in live game situations, he has picked his spots to elevate his team. Besides his spectacular first at bat, first pitch, 3-run home run against the Orioles Rodriguez has chosen other moments to shine as well.
On Saturday night Rodriguez hit a two-run walk-off homer in the 11th inning to record his first hit at the new Yankee Stadium. The home run also broke a 4-4 tie and stunned the Twins for the second game in a row. In Sunday’s game against the Twins Rodriguez etched his will on the game again. Trailing 2-0 to a brilliant pitching performance by Kevin Slowey A-Rod hit a solo shot in the 7th inning to cut the lead to 2-1.
The big beneficiary in all of this has been Teixeira. With Rodriguez batting cleanup behind him, Teixeira has been seeing better pitches and has responded. In the 9 games since his return and proceeding A-Rod in the order Teixeira is hitting .324 with 3 home runs and 9 RBI. He is still striking out more than the Yankees would like, but overall they have to be very pleased Teixeira has begun to thaw out at the plate.
Getting back to today’s game at the Stadium against the Twins, New York won for their third straight come-from-behind victory is this 4-game series. All of the wins have come in surprising fashions. In addition to A-Rod’s heroics Saturday night, hot hitting CF Melky Cabrera added his own brand of excitement.
Trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th with two on, two out and the bases loaded Cabrera strode to the plate to face premier closer Joe Nathan. Cabrera lifted the ball into the left-center field gap scoring Teixeira and PR Ramiro Peña to secure a 5-4 win.
In Sunday’s game the Yankees faced an outstanding start by Slowey who only surrendered two earned runs in 7.2 innings of work. The Yankees countered with A.J. Burnett, though struggling at times, kept his team in the game. Burnett gave up two earned runs in 6.2 innings before giving the ball to the bullpen.
After A-Rod’s solo homer in the 7th inning DH Hideki Matsui doubled off Slowey and then scored the tying run by advancing on RF Nick Swisher’s sacrifice and Cabrera’s fly out to left field. Slowey’s day was done and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire turned it over to his bullpen.
The Twins kept the game even until the bottom of the 10th inning when LF Johnny Damon turned on a fastball from RHRP Jesse Crain and sent into the right field second deck to give the Yankees their third come-from-behind victory. It was Damon’s third career walk off bomb, but his first with the Yankees. The three consecutive come-from-behind wins hadn’t been accomplished since August 27-29, 1972 the season before principal owner George Steinbrenner purchased the club.
The win also was the Yankees 5th straight victory, which is the longest string of wins this season.
After the game, YES Network’s Kimberly Jones caught up with Damon outside the Yankees dugout. Just before going on camera Damon was given a cream pie in the face by Burnett. Jones asked Damon what all of the recent drama meant to him and the team.
“This is great. Three straight walk offs, you know it’s pretty exciting for us,” Damon said. “Hopefully, this means we’re going to start playing better. Things feel real good right now.”
It’s also pretty exciting for Yankee fans as well and you can bet they’re feeling real good right now too.
Notes: This was the 11th anniversary of David Wells perfect game against the Minnesota Twins who lost to the Yankees 4-0.