A-Rod talks big and backs it up
Alex Rodriguez was fed up. Mired in a 52 at-bat homerless streak, he stood before his locker Tuesday night after a Yankees win over the Royals. The offense was still misfiring. Think of it like scraping up just enough change on the ground to buy that cherished candy bar.
A target of chatter on whether his best days are truly behind him, A-Rod said he was about to “go off.” He was bothered by the Yankees dropping six of seven games and ghastly 6-for-72 (.083) performance over nine with runners in scoring position. Perhaps a long drive to left field Sunday afternoon that he was positive was headed for the seats before it died on the vine – it drew whispers that his power was fading, and never mind catching Barry Bonds, people wondered if Rodriguez would ever match Willie Mays’ 660 home runs – had pushed him over the edge.
Rodriguez, fifth all-time on baseball’s home run list and tethered to a $275 million contract bequeathed to him in 2008, hit not one home run, but two off shell-shocked Royals rookie Will Smith. The Yankees blasted Royals pitching for eight total runs after tallying no more than five since May 14. Over that time, Rodriguez had five homers -- none since May 6 – and 15 RBIs in 42 games.
"I said it because I meant it," Rodriguez said. "I said it because I've been working on some things. I said it with conviction, not because it was going to sound good here in my locker, but because I felt it. It is good to back it up."
Just like that, Rodriguez, who batted .244 in April, is at .281 with 18 RBIs while hitting .321 this month. His seven homers are tied for second with Nick Swisher behind Curtis Granderson’s 14. He’s done the little things you can’t see in a box score – he deftly handled Alcides Escobar’s slow grounder to third and threw him out by a hair to prevent the tying run from scoring in the ninth of Tuesday’s win – but A-Rod is expected to uphold a reputation. Before Wednesday’s game he took extra batting practice. Anytime his numbers are below par, you reserve the right to question, what’s wrong? What you never worry about is his work ethic.
"When you hit in the middle of the order, your team expects you to get big hits," Rodriguez said. "I was tired of making the news for taking third base on a fly ball or stealing a base. That's a big part of the game and I take a lot of pride in it, but I understand what my bread and butter is and that is to make big noise with my bat."
As first reported by Jack Curry, Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi addressed the team before Tuesday’s victory. A-Rod was also one of the speakers, evidence of a more active leadership role he’s taken over recent years.
“I said, 'Let's go out and get these two and then let's go out to the west coast and play Yankee baseball,’” Rodriguez said. “This team has been together a long time. The one thing is don't underestimate this team. This is not our first rodeo. We understand what it takes to win.”
At two games over .500 and 4 ½ games behind the first-place Orioles – yes, the O’s are in first and are not going away – the Yankees also understand a greater sense of urgency, even if it’s Memorial Day weekend. If A-Rod has anything to say about it, the Yankees won’t roll over. They will live free or die hard, and no player will work harder to back up his words.
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