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Archive for August, 2015

I Can Admit When I’m Wrong…

I had my first ever semi-doubtful moment about Alex Rodriguez Tuesday night. Maybe doubtful isn’t the right word, but it is the first time I remember thinking “Hey…this isn’t working” about his performance.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written or tweeted, or heard anything I’ve ever said, you know I am one of the biggest (if not the biggest) Alex Rodriguez fans you will ever meet. There was nothing I wanted more this season than for him to come back from that season long suspension and play well. Well enough to prove my almost two decades of fandom weren’t a bad decision. Well enough for people to realize he’s more than the suspension, the bad publicity, and the very public mistakes. Well enough for people to realize he is one of the greatest baseball players most of my generation will ever see play – because he is.

But we all know the story. He came back, put up better numbers than anyone could imagine, while doing and saying all the right things. And then came August. The “dog days of summer” as he called them – when he went through a 1-for-27 slump and said “I’ve been stinking up the joint here for about three weeks now.” Then – a grand slam. A huge A-Rod moment that saved the game, maybe even saved the series, and made Alex Rodriguez look like a hero again.


Photo: Getty images

But what about the moments right before the grand slam? There were some pretty negative opinions out there. Some fans were certain it wasn’t a slump – it was the end of the road for Alex Rodriguez. Some wanted Alex benched, some wanted him moved down in the order.

I’m not ashamed to say I didn’t think it was a bad idea to bench him, and I was in favor of dropping him in the order. Obviously, Joe Girardi did not feel the same way since Alex remained in the lineup and batting 3rd. We all know now that was for the better, but I don’t regret saying what I did, even if it hurt to say it. (Also, I’ve always liked Girardi – as a player, and – most of the time – as a manager.)

Did I want Alex benched indefinitely? Absolutely not! But I am aware that he is 40 years old (that’s really old for a baseball player) and any day could be his last. I want to see this guy play every single game he can for as long as he possibly can. Quite honestly, I don’t want his career to ever end because I know I will never have a favorite player as much as he has been for all these years, and it will break my heart when the time comes for him to stop playing. (I know it’s going to happen someday, and fair warning – I’m going to be an absolute mess when it does.) When I suggest benching him, I mean only for a day or two. Not only is he ancient in baseball years, but this is the longest season he’s played in a really, really long time. Granted, he’s not playing the field anymore and DH is considerably less draining on the body, but it’s still a long season. As of today, he has played in 110 games. In previous seasons, he’s played 44 (2013, age 37), 122 (2012, age 36) and 99 (2011, age 35) games. In his entire 21 year career he has played 11,819 games including 3 seasons (2001, 2002, 2005) when he played all 162 games and 2 seasons (1998, 2003) when he missed just one game (played 161). That is a lot of baseball – especially for a man who spent all of last year out of the game. It’s perfectly reasonable that he might be tired – maybe a little slow due to fatigue – and need a day, maybe even two, to rest and recover/refocus.

As for dropping him in the order, it does not imply anything negative about his abilities as a hitter. You can’t total 3,000+ hits, 2,000+ RBI, and 675+ home runs by luck or by accident. Instead, consider the traditional batting order construct compared to a typical lineup for the 2015 Yankees. The three-hole is usually for the best all-around hitter on team who can get on base and/or drive in runs from the lead off batters, this year usually occupied by Alex Rodriguez (which, for the majority of the season, I agree with). During his slump, Rodriguez was certainly not the best all-around hitter on the team – as much as it pains me to say it – but was probably one of the worst. (Although it would take great effort to be as bad as Stephen Drew.) He absolutely has the talent to be the best and he has proved it throughout his career, and I would never doubt the mechanics of his swing.

So what’s the problem? My guess is it was more mental – the pressure of being the third man in the lineup, the pressure or being in a slump, and maybe even the pressure of his age. There have been many reports throughout his career that Alex is a perfectionist – that too causes pressure. Going into this season, no one knew what to expect from Alex Rodriguez – himself included. During spring training and the first couple weeks of the season, he batted anywhere from 2nd to 7th before proving he was every bit as good a hitter as hit career statistics would suggest and permanently being moved into the three-hole. Now that we know what he’s capable of – among the team leaders in home runs, RBI, slugging, etc – we expect that production all the time. Do we expect as much from batters lower in lineup? Of course not.

The typical batting order for this season’s Yankees has had Rodriguez 3rd, Texeira cleanup, Brian McCann 5th, and Carlos Beltran 6th (with adjustments if one has a day off). Both McCann and Beltran have recently had tremendous series and have arguably been the best hitters on the team at the time. A simple shift in the lineup – maybe for just even a game or two – could bring one or both of them up in the order, and bring Rodriguez down a little bit. Maybe with a little less pressure batting a little lower in the lineup, Rodriguez doesn’t let the slump get into his head quite as much and he focuses on better contact. With his obvious power, he could easily send one over the outfield wall with a good hit. Of course there is no way to measure the amount of mental pressure he may have experienced or what results we could have seen from a lineup rearrangement, but in my opinion, it was an idea worth considering.

Those changes weren’t meant to be. The reality is, Rodriguez broke the slump in the grandest way possible, and after the grand slam, suddenly everyone on the team could hit. Greg Bird (single), Didi Gregorius (single), Chase Headley (double), and Jacoby Ellsbury (single) all had hits the next inning, combining for 2 more runs with the help of Brendan Ryan’s sacrifice bunt. Ellsbury even stole his 15th base of the season. The grand slam not only ended the slump, but it ignited the rest of the team’s offense as well.

And it’s a moment I’ll always remember. I yelled so loud when that ball was hit, my neighbors probably thought I was being murdered. Not only was it a huge, slump-ending grand slam, but is broke Rodriguez’s own record of most career grand slams (25). Earlier this year, I was happy any time he made contact with the ball and didn’t strike out. The 25 home runs, 67 RBIs, and 2 stolen bases (yes, they really happened) are a bonus. I’ve mentioned before that someone once told me “Every at bat he has is historic” and that’s absolutely true. He’s breaking records all the time, and with as well as he’s playing right now, we have no idea how much better his career statistics will be when he does retire.

Photo: snewsi.com

Again, I’m not afraid to admit I was wrong about resting him or dropping him in the order – but that doesn’t mean I won’t get worried again if he slumps in the future. If/when it does happen (he went 0-3 the very next day), it won’t be because of my lack of faith in him, but rather doing whatever it takes for him to be the best player he can be. I know what he’s capable of, and I want to witness as much of it as I possibly can before his career ends, even if that means he’s not the number three hitter or if he takes a few more days off.

This time, I commend Joe Girardi and Alex Rodriguez, along with the whole team that stuck with him, for getting through the slump (and hopefully there isn’t another). To me, it shows what kind of team they are to hang in there, knowing the slump would eventually end and that Rodriguez would again be a productive part of the team. At a time when my emotions and nerves got the best of me, they kept on grinding. Just the way a first place team does.

A Tale of Two Cities

When you have the opportunity to travel 786 miles to see four MLB teams play in two separate games, you just have to do it. Because after all, this is summer. And even if football has returned to our TV screens, summertime is baseball time.

So maybe that’s not exactly there reason these two games happened within days of each other. As luck – and my work schedule – would have it, I had the chance to drive to Cleveland midweek to see the Yankees and Indians play, and then travel to Baltimore to see the A’s and Orioles that weekend. It was a lot of baseball in one week, or as I would call it – heaven.

11873495_806461130381_1585491247349533703_nWednesday August 12 Yankees at Indians
Final Score: Yankees 1, Indians 2
WP: Danny Salazar LP: C.C. Sabathia S: Cody Allen
Distance traveled: approximately 694 miles

The circumstances surrounding this game might make it the most perfect game I will experience all season long. After spending Tuesday and most of Wednesday with my family, I met up with my best friend Lisa who is the reason I ever started watching baseball. We made plans to head into Cleveland so I could be fitted for my matron of honor dress (Lisa is getting married next July), have dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, and see two of our favorite teams play. Lisa decided to wear an Indians shirt since we were in our hometown and her beloved Jeter is retired, and was very supportive of my Rodriguez jersey. For friends cheering for competing teams, we were very peaceful. And our seats were so good, I could have probably carried on a conversation with Chase Headley if I yelled loud enough.
Before the game, I was worried for the Yankees for a number of reasons: the previous night’s game lasted 16 innings (past midnight), the Blue Jays were closing in on 1st place in A.L. East, and the struggling C.C. Sabathia was starting. Surprisingly, it was a fairly good game despite the Yankees loss. Sometime Wednesday afternoon I had a sudden feeling of confidence in Sabathia. Cleveland is where he started his career in 2001 and won the Cy Young Award in 2007. He was incredibly gracious when he left, and I’ve always felt there was a mutual admiration between him and the city. Sure enough, he settled in well and allowed only 2 runs (all the Indians needed to win) on 9 hits in 6IP (2BB, 2SO).
Another cause of pregame nerves was hearing the Yankees had brought up Chris Capuano after he was previously been designated for assignment. When I saw a left handed pitcher warming up during the 6th inning, I was nearly in tears in the stands expecting Capuano to appear for the 7th inning. Much to my surprise, the lefty was actually Chasen Shreve who is not only a far better pitcher than Capuano (at this point in their careers at the very least) but one of my favorite players to watch this season.
A funny thing about this game are the Indians’ bullpens. During the past off season, the bullpens were moved closer to center field and are “stacked” (they used to be parallel to the foul lines and had very limited exposure to fans in the stadium). Late in the game, both Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances were halfheartedly warming up (neither made an appearance in the game). Both are so tall (Miller 6’7” and Betances 6’8”) they both looked like they might hit the ceiling of the bullpen just by walking. It was a little surprising (at least from my angle) they were able to bring their arms up and around to throw.

11892035_807091866381_7279539388366583417_nSaturday August 15 Athletics and Orioles
Final Score: A’s 3, O’s 4

WP: Zach Britton LP: Pat Venditte
Distance traveled: only about 92 miles
When you think of a really good baseball games, this was one of them.
Camden Yards was packed, and everyone was wearing orange thanks to the J.J. Hardy jersey giveaway. (Some of us arrived too late for the jersey, but were already wearing orange Chris Davis and Manny Machado shirts.)
It started out rough. After Billy Burns hit a triple (to center field – but he’s kind of fast), Mark Canha grounded out to first and of course speedy Butler scored. Miguel Gonzalez settled down for a few innings, and then gave Sam Fuld a nice pitch to hit over the right field wall for his second home run of the season (right after I laughed at home for having only one).
There we stayed with a score of 3-0 and about 44,000 disappointed Orioles fans (the 10 A’s fans in attendance were quite content). In the 4th inning, Gerardo Parra (one of the newest Orioles) hit a single, and stayed there until Chris Davis sent a pitch over the right field wall. Two innings later, Parra continued his impressive start with the Orioles by also hitting a home run over the right field wall – tie game.
After that, the game was up to the pitchers. First, fan favorite Darren O’Day came on to pitch for the Orioles in the top of the 8th, followed by closer Britton in the top of the 9th. The A’s left their starting pitcher Chris Bassitt in through 8 innings, and was relieved by SHP Pat Venditte.
Seeing Venditte pitch was a unique experience. The scoreboard listed him as a RHP, and he did throw considerably faster with his right arm. When he was first announced, I quickly looked to see who was up for the Orioles – Parra (L), Jones (r), Davis (L). If I had the chance to see Pat Venditte pitch, I wanted to see him pitch with both arms! After Parra flew out, Venditte switched to RHP as my husband watched in disbelief. When Adam Jones grounded out and Venditte switched back to LHP to face Davis, my husband yelled “What kind of gimmick is this?!” Suddenly, the ball goes flying into the air – and again, over the right field wall. (Wouldn’t you know we were sitting in left field?)
The Orioles won in the bottom of the 9th by a walkoff home run, and the place exploded in excitement. As is Baltimore tradition after such a big moment, Adam Jones came out of the dugout to throw a pie in Davis’ face, which he gladly accepted after being the hero of the game.

This past week met a few weird fan goals for me this season. First, I (again) saw my 4 favorite teams play in their home stadiums (Yankees, Orioles, Indians, and Nationals). To top that, I’ve seen my favorite team (Yankees) play in all four of those cities.
From this point, it’s a long wait for another live MLB game. Next game on the schedule is September 18 when the Marlins take on the Nats in DC, followed by Yankees at Orioles to close out the regular season the first weekend in October. So far – and looking ahead – it’s been a good baseball season for this fan!