The outcome of every baseball game relies so heavily on the starting pitcher that it seems odd to preemptively look for another person to blame for a loss that might not happen. Or, it would be odd if it wasn't for the presence of the eternal lightning wearing number 13 and playing third base for the Yankees.
Both of our faithful tabloids are putting the heat on Alex Rodriguez on Friday with columns maintaining that the statute of limitations of good feelings generated by his 2009 postseason run has run out. Mike Vaccaro of the Post and Mike Lupica of the News both do their best to dance around assertions that A-Rod can't thrive in the clutch. From Lupica:
"It is a good thing he did knock in those two runs in the Game 1 rally, or this October would remind people, exactly, of the ones when he looked like the easiest out on the team."
Lupica then goes on to do everything in his power to call him a guy who can't rise to the occasion. Vaccaro is a little lighter, saying that it is a question of will he step up instead of can he. The subtext is the same, however. If he doesn't hit two homers and drive in six runs tonight it is because he is at heart a choker who can't play his best when the team demands it.
No one is going to argue that A-Rod has had a good postseason. He's hitting .214, slugging .250 and has driven in only three runs. Those are terrible numbers, but they are numbers that are right in line with what guys like Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira (pre-injury, naturally) and Brett Gardner have done so far. The only two Yankees who have really been hitting are Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, but, as always, A-Rod is the only guy who gets singled out for letting his team down in the biggest games of the season.
It's funny how people can look at the same situation and draw wildly different conclusions. Lupica and Vaccaro see A-Rod scuffling and cast aspersions about his intestinal fortitude. Others might see the way the Yankees offense is underachieving and remember how A-Rod carried the team to a World Series title less than 12 full months ago. No matter what happens the rest of the way this time around, that means something.
It means the A-Rod is a choker meme is dead. If A-Rod has a bad postseason, it means he had a bad run at an inopportune time. That's the same thing that it meant all those years when Derek Jeter didn't hit and didn't get raked over the coals and the same thing it's meant two years running as Teixeira's avoided being called an overpaid wimp despite turning in results worse than what A-Rod did to earn the label in the first place.
Old habits die hard, though, even when there's plenty of blame to go around.