The only thing harder to figure than Joe West's strike zone in the deciding game of the AL Division Series between the Yankees and Angels Monday night was Alex Rodriguez.
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The curious case of the world's most talented head case continued through another shortened postseason for the Yankees. While 22-year-old Ervin Santana was creating a little slice of legend by burying 94 mph fastballs under the hands of some of baseball's best hitters, A-Rod was carving out a chapter of zero-RBI underachievement.
Up until Sunday afternoon, there wasn't much to recommend any of this year's divisional series. That has been the case for several years now, raising once again the question of the validity of the wild-card format. For the most part, the extra round of playoffs serves to weaken pitching depth and create sloppy games in the later rounds, especially the World Series. Does anyone truly think the Angels will put on a representative showing after playing in New York on Sunday night, Anaheim Monday night and Chicago Tuesday? They aren't even going to know where they are.
At least this year the divisional series got a sliver of salvation with Sunday's 18-inning epic in Houston and Monday night's game in Anaheim. If these games are going to skew the rest of the postseason, they might as well provide some entertainment.
There were several memorable moments in those two games -- from Kyle Farnsworth's implosion to Roger Clemens out of the 'pen to Chris Burke out of the yard to Santana to Vlad Guerrero scoring easily from third on a two-hopper to first. (By the way, has anyone ever been publicly savaged for lack of hustle the way Adam LaRoche was for his jog/run into an out at the plate?) Before Sunday, though, there was nothing riveting, nothing you'd be talking about more than 24 hours later, with the possible exception of El Duque's escape act in Game 3 for the White Sox.
And if the best thing for baseball -- according to the wisdom of the television networks, anyway -- is a Yankees win, the next best thing is a Yankees loss. Any Yankees loss is viewed publicly as their failure first, somebody else's success second. And once again, nobody's failure will be scrutinized more than A-Rod's.
The Yankees had a chance in the top of the ninth, down two against Frankie Rodriguez. Derek Jeter -- the anti-A-Rod -- led off with a fierce single to left, and up came A-Rod as the tying run. And as he strolled to the plate, I know I'm not the only one who had this crazy thought: Make him bunt. Ridiculous, maybe, but there was absolutely no reason to think he could get the job done. He hit into a double play, effectively ending the Yankees' season.
Jeter had three hits in front of him Sunday night. Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield each had three hits behind him. A-Rod had two hits in five games, both in the Yankees' 11-7 loss in Game 3.