Remember when Alex Rodriguez was the least clutch player in baseball?
You probably do. Until last October, you could always get an easy laugh by calling him A-Fraud for his struggles when the spotlight burned brightest or from some cleverly constructed jibe about his tendency to choke. Even the die-hardest of the die-hards had a chuckle or two over the years about the way A-Rod folded up under pressure. Hope everyone enjoyed it while it lasted.
Much like jokes about the Ottoman Empire, that strain of humor has closed up shop for good. Rodriguez’s eighth-inning home run off Mariners closer David Aardsma on Thursday afternoon in the Bronx may have only been his 12th of the season, but damned if it doesn’t feel like every last one of them have come at a key moment in the ballgame.
The stats don’t quite bear that out. He’s hit four home runs after the start of the seventh inning and three in late and close situations but he certainly hasn’t been padding his stats with any cheapies in meaningless spots. Only four blasts have come in low-leverage situations and only four of them have come when the Yankees were already winning a game. He must have liked playing the hero last October.
It all makes for quite a change in perception. No such changes are necessary for another hero of Thursday’s victory, however.
Mariano Rivera saved his 17th game of the season and a quick perusal of his stats finds him posting numbers that rival or better anything he’s turned in during his superlative career as the Yankees closer. He’s been so good, in fact, that the Yankees could have probably done the whole pie in the face, walkoff win celebration deal after A-Rod’s homer and not wound up with a different outcome.
To see just how little Rivera has changed over the years, check out this video, a visual explanation of Rivera's greatness, the Times put together to accompany the lavish profile of him that they cooked up for this Sunday’s magazine section. That would be Independence Day, of course, a day the Yankees have to hope never comes without Rivera ready and waiting to shut the door in the ninth.