- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Nah. Can't be. Alex Rodriguez hit another home run? Wait -- not just another dinger, but another walk-off, drama-king homer that traveled almost as far as the quickie charter flight the New York Yankees took to Boston immediately after Thursday afternoon's come-from-behind victory.
This time A-Rod sent a nothing pitch from a one-time Maidenform bra factory worker into the far reaches of Yankee Stadium. One moment the pitch was leaving the right hand of Cleveland Indians closer
Joe Borowski, who took the mound in the bottom of the ninth with a 6-2 lead. The next moment the ball was clearing the center field wall, the Yankees were celebrating another improbable victory, and Rodriguez was taking a dugout curtain call after his mind-boggling 10th home run in just 14 games.
As the Yankees prepare for the first of six series with the division-leading Red Sox, there is absolutely no disagreement as to why New York is 8-6 rather than the other way around, or worse. They are being carried on the previously fragile shoulders of Rodriguez, who is shoving Barry Bonds, Dice-K, the Philadelphia Phillies Phree-fall -- and anyone else to temporary baseball irrelevancy.
A-Rod leads the big leagues in homers, RBIs, and standing ovations. His 10 dingers are only four shy of the April record set by
Albert Pujols a season ago. With just 10 games remaining in April, I'd say he has no chance at the 20-home run month set by Sammy Sosa in June of 1998, but apparently this is the new and ungodly improved Rodriguez.
Of course, the only reason he made it to the plate in the bottom of the ninth Thursday was because Borowski ralphed on himself. The likeable, blue-collar reliever retired the first two Yankees hitters and then gave up a so-what homer to Josh Phelps. But then came a single by Jorge Posada, a Johnny Damon walk, a Derek Jeter single, a Bobby Abreu single, and then the three-run A-Rod rocket launch.
I'm sure with first base open, Indians manager Eric Wedge had his reasons for pitching to the planet's hottest hitter. The book says take your chances on the righty-righty matchup between Borowski and A-Rod rather than walk him and face lefty Jason Giambi, who had homered three innings earlier. But Rodriguez is rewriting every page of every scouting report these days.
As Rodriguez rounded third base he tossed his batting helmet and then prepared for another stomp on home plate. The first player to stake a spot in the celebration was none other than Yankees captain Jeter, whose relationship with A-Rod has been a tiny bit strained at times. But Jeter is about W's, championship rings and victory parades. And right now, nobody on the Yankees is doing more to make that a reality than Rodriguez.
Think about it: The Yankees are down three starting pitchers -- Carl Pavano, Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina. Yet, they are only a game behind the Red Sox. They arrive at Fenway Park on a three-game win streak.
Red Sox followers can and will hate the Yankees, but they can't dismiss Rodriguez's numbers. A-Rod is slowly dispelling the assorted criticisms that have stuck to him like a wad of gum. For instance:
You can get inside A-Rod's head.
Not right now, you can't. The guy is locked in. At Thursday afternoon's end, he had more home runs this season than Bonds, Pujols and Ryan Howard combined. He's playing like the kid in his athletic wear commercial.
Poor Borowski, who had already thrown 29 pitches by the time A-Rod arrived in the batter's box, didn't know what to do with him. So he threw and hoped. Didn't work.
And did you notice A-Rod didn't go into a funk after going hitless his first four at-bats and then committing a ninth-inning throwing error that resulted in an Indians' run?
Who cares if he's Mr. April? We want to see Mr. October.
Look, without A-Rod's April, there might not be a Yankees October. Every win counts, including the ones during the first month of the season. Rodriguez has already hit two walk-off homers. Is that any good?
Plus, you get the feeling that A-Rod isn't sweating the small stuff as much. He's heard the rip jobs about his postseason nightmares. But he can't do anything about October until, well, October. For now, he does the Roy Hobbs thing in April.
Rodriguez isn't going to keep this up. If he does, he'll finish with 116 homers and 301 RBIs. I guarantee you, Hank Aaron will fly cross-country to see that.
Whatever happens, A-Rod has become the most compelling story of an infant baseball season. Now he gets to deal with the Red Sox and the always delightful Boston fans, who will welcome Rodriguez and the Yankees with open jeers.
Something tells me A-Rod won't mind them at all.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
White-hot Alex Rodriguez's 116-homer pace is carrying the 8-6 Yankees on his previously fragile shoulders, writes Gene Wojciechowski.