Commentary

A-Rod whiffing in first Series opportunity

Yankees are in big trouble unless Rodriguez can recover from his 0-for-8, six-K start

Originally Published: October 29, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- A-Rod to K-Rod? That will be the knee-jerk reaction to Alex Rodriguez's World Series plunge into Oh-fer Land. And for once, the knee has a point.

Scalding hot in the two previous rounds of this postseason, Rodriguez is now colder than those $10 draft beers they're selling at the Yankee Stadium concession stands. His numbers are boo-grade material: Eight at-bats. Zero hits. Six strikeouts.

"It's eight at-bats," Rodriguez said. "I'm not concerned at all."

Rodriguez's New York Yankees overcame his non-production in Thursday night's 3-1 win in Game 2 against the Philadelphia Phillies, but how long can they survive with A-Rod flailing away at the plate? Answer: They can't.

The Yankees salvaged a split at home, but not because of anything Rodriguez did. Yes, it's been only eight at-bats -- eight mostly gruesome at-bats.

Rodriguez has hit exactly one ball out of the infield -- a routine fly out to left. He has more K's in the World Series than he did in his previous 32 playoff at-bats against the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels this October (five).

So there's no other way to say it: He's been Nick Swisher-like since the Series began, nearly useless with that black Louisville Slugger in his gloved hands. Swisher and his .114 postseason got benched for Game 2 (about time), but Rodriguez stays in the lineup because (A) he's A-Rod and (B) the Yankees wouldn't be in the World Series without his combined 14 hits, .438 average, five home runs, 12 RBIs and 10 runs in the American League Division Series and AL Championship Series.

"He got us here," said Jerry Hairston Jr., who replaced Swisher in Thursday night's lineup.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
Noah K. Murray/THE STAR-LEDGER/US PresswireAlex Rodriguez has hit only one ball out of the infield in eight World Series at-bats.
That's nice. But unless Rodriguez remembers how to hit, the Yankees aren't going to win their first World Series since 2000. The same offense that led the big leagues in home runs and runs has scored four times in two games against the Phillies. Keep that up and they can DVR the Phillies' victory parade next week.

There was no way Rodriguez could sustain a .438 average and the kind of power numbers he was putting up in the ALDS and ALCS. And the way Phillies starter Cliff Lee pitched in Game 1, A-Rod was just part of the conga line of Yankees batters who could do zilch.

But Thursday evening's game was against 38-year-old Pedro Martinez. Speed guns don't even bother measuring his fastball anymore. Plus, Martinez was battling flu-like symptoms.

Martinez struck A-Rod out twice. Reliever Ryan Madson struck him out once. A night earlier, Lee struck him out three times. Four times this season, Rodriguez has had three-strikeout games. Three of those K-fests have come against the Phillies, once in the regular season.

"The fact that I'm oh-for-the-Series and we're 1-1 and the guys picked me up today makes me feel really good about going into Game 3," he said.

That's the Smiley Face perspective, and it makes a lot of sense. But the ultracritical, ultranervous Yankees fan perspective flashes back to A-Rod's postseason no-shows in 2006 and 2007. Rodriguez "hit" .071 with zero homers and nary an RBI in the playoff elimination to Detroit, and .267 with one home run and one RBI in the elimination to Cleveland.

This October was different because A-Rod's bat said it was different. He was 5-for-11 against the Twins, 9-for-21 against the Angels. He was unstoppable. Now he has trouble putting a ball in play.

"I think they're being careful," said Rodriguez of the Phillies' pitching strategy toward him. "But overall I'm just glad that I got picked up today by the boys in front of me and behind me. … I'm going to be fine."

Mark Teixeira, who hits in front of A-Rod in the 3-spot, tied the score in the fourth inning with a 414-foot homer. Hideki Matsui, who bats fifth, put the Yankees ahead in the sixth with a 9-iron home run swing to right field. Rodriguez played the role of dugout cheerleader.

The Yankees got a shutdown performance from starter A.J. Burnett. Given the situation (the possibility of a 2-0 Series deficit), Burnett's seven-inning, four-hit, nine-strikeout performance was his best outing of the season. Throw in Teixeira's and Matsui's clutch dingers and Mariano Rivera's two-inning save, and the Yankees head to Philly with a must-have split.

"Now we've got a five-game Series," Rodriguez said.

He hopes. As good as the Yankees' lineup is, it revolves around A-Rod, their cleanup hitter. In the 2009 regular season, Rodriguez put up huge numbers after three-strikeout games -- a combined 8-for-10 with five RBIs. But in his first-ever World Series, Rodriguez has followed one three-strikeout performance with another three-strikeout night.

It's two games. It really is. … The next two games, he could go 8-for-10. That's how good he is.

-- Yankees teammate Jerry Hairston Jr., about A-Rod

"It's two games," Hairston said of A-Rod's struggles. "It really is. … The next two games, he could go 8-for-10. That's how good he is."

Right now, we've seen how bad he is. It is a familiar theme, a theme Rodriguez tried to distance himself from as he stepped in front of his locker after the game. I asked him about his Game 1 and 2 difficulties. He ignored the question.

"Just a great win overall," he said. "Just a great win. Great team effort. Guys swing the bats in front of me and behind me. Story of the day is A.J. Burnett."

Burnett might have been the story of Thursday night, but Rodriguez's inability to get a hit -- a squibber through the hole, a bloop, a seeing-eye something … anything -- is fast becoming the story of this Series. Not only is a world championship at stake here but also a personal legacy.

"Everything right now is magnified," A-Rod said.

He was talking about Teixeira and the importance of that fourth-inning home run. But with each lost at-bat, Rodriguez's failures receive greater inspection.

Hit, or else. It's that simple.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter