Alex Rodriguez has destroyed the Angels in the first four games of the American League championship series, which the Yankees lead, 3-1.
His remarkable performance, which includes home runs in three straight games, reverses a trend. Rodriguez had been dreadful in post-season games previously.
It’s one of my pet peeves in sports that a team or individual who has demonstrated excellence throughout a six-month season is tarnished in the minds of many by slumping for a few weeks at playoff time.
It’s the worst aspect of playoffs. They’re too important.
In my mind Rodriguez has been one of the best players in baseball since he reached the major leagues. He hadn’t done well in playoff games, but to me that doesn’t erase everything else he’s accomplished. And he deserves the huge contracts he’s received.
But even great players go into slumps. And in Rodriguez’ case, considering the size of his contract, I’m pretty sure he compounded his problem in recent years by pressing. The more he struggled the harder he tried and the tension affected his swing.
Then the 2009 playoffs came along.
“He shortened his swing. He looks like a different hitter to me,” said Angels outfielder Torri Hunter, himself an outstanding player and a keen observer of teammates and opponents.
“He’s more patient at the plate.”
Rodriguez is the youngest player in major league history to hit 500 home runs and he’s been named MVP of the American League.
He currently has a 10-year contract with the Yankees for $275 million, the richest in baseball history. That breaks his previous record of $252 million with the Texas Rangers, who traded him to the Yankees in 2004.
But in the playoffs of 2005 and 2006 Rodriguez hit less than .200.
“I’ve accomplished a lot in my career, but I make the most money and play for the best team so I know the criticism won’t stop until we win five or six World Series championships,” he said.
The Yankees didn’t even qualify for the playoffs last season but they spent even more heavily than usual on free agents and landed the best available pitcher, C.C. Sabathia.
With their lineup loaded with talent and the pitching vastly improved, the Yankees are on the verge of eliminating the Angels. That would leave only the defending champion Phils or Dodgers in their path to a championship.
They’re going to be hard to beat, especially if A-Rod continues to relax and do his thing.