Baseball is down to its final four. The Division Series round did not disappoint: for the first time ever, all four matchups went the distance. The New York Yankees will host the Detroit Tigers on Saturday to kick of the American League Championship Series; on Sunday, the NLCS starts in San Francisco, where the Giants will host the St. Louis Cardinals, who broke D.C.’s heart last night by overcoming a 6-0 deficit early in the game, and a 7-5 hole in the top of the ninth, to beat the Nationals, 9-7.
But will the man who has hit 647 career home runs, and is being paid $29 million this year to pound a baseball, be taking any LCS swings?
Thanks to a stellar outing from C.C. Sabathia, the New York Yankees survived their Division Series with the Baltimore Orioles: New York took Game 5, 3-1. But the win was not the biggest story in the Bronx. With Alex Rodriguez having horrible series — he entered Game 5 having gone 2 for 16 against Baltimore, with nine strikeouts — Yankees manager Joe Girardi benched one of baseball’s all-time greats in a deciding game. “It’s a tough decision, no doubt about it, because of what he’s meant to our club,” Girardi said before Game 5. “But I just felt with the trouble he’s having, I would go with [third baseman Eric] Chavez. He said he’s ready to help when he’s needed to help, and let’s win today.” As the New York Times explains:
Girardi said that Rodriguez had been struggling so much against right-handers in the series — 0 for 11 with 7 strikeouts — that he decided to make the move, and not contemplate the long-term consequences.
“You can’t think about that now,” Girardi said. “You have to think about winning a game. This isn’t June. This is October.”
Rodriguez went through pregame warm-ups Friday afternoon and said he would be prepared to enter the game when called upon, and that he was not angry at Girardi.
“It’s never about Joe,” he said. “I always have to look in the mirror and do what I can do the best I can.”
Rodriguez said after the Orioles’ 2-1 victory in 13 innings in Game 4 that he fully expected to be in the lineup for Game 5. The Orioles started the right-handed pitcher Jason Hammel, against whom Rodriguez has a .364 lifetime average, with four home runs in 22 at-bats. But Girardi put more significance on the way Rodriguez has looked lately against right-handers than on his career numbers against Hammel.
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A-Rod’s decline is remarkable. Just three years ago, his torrid October helped the New York Yankees win the World Series. But that may wind up being his lone successful postseason as a Yankee. In five playoff series in Pinstripes, A-Rod has hit under .200 (including the last three: the 2010 ALCS, against the Texas Rangers, last year’s ALDS against Detroit, and this series against Baltimore). He hasn’t hit a playoff home run since Game 3 of the 2009 World Series, almost 80 playoff at-bats ago.
And the Yankees owe A-Rod, 37, at least $114 million over the next five seasons.
In the clubhouse after the game, A-Rod was all smiles during the champagne celebration, which was brief. The Yankees expect to win the division series, and plus, they have a game today. After popping some bubbly with teammates, he ducked behind a plastic covering at the back of the clubhouse, and disappeared. A-Rod refused to meet with the dozens of reporters lingering by his locker.
Luckily for the Yankees, 40-year-old outfielder Raul Ibanez has more than capably filled in for A-Rod. His pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth of Game 3 — he was hitting for A-Rod — forced extra innings; then Ibanez won it in the 12th with a walk-off home run. Ibanez drove in New York’s first run in Game 5, with a single in the bottom of the fifth inning.
“He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Ibanez says of A-Rod. “He’s going to be huge for us this post-season.” Ibanez is being nice. A-Rod can’t hit righties, and Detroit has four righty starting pitchers. He may be getting $29 million to clap in the dugout.