Alex Rodriguez gets dogged more than your average Yankee. He's been a bulls-eye for criticism since he signed his mammoth contract with the Rangers in 2001, and the World Series slap incident, the Varitek brawl, and his fielding errors earlier this season did very little to take the heat off arguably the best player in baseball.
The one thing that will get such a King Kong-sized monkey off your back is performance, big performance in big spots, like last night. After the demoralizing pregame news that the Yanks #3 starter, rookie Chien Ming Wang, was being put on the DL; after the Red Sox took an early lead, which the Yanks came back to tie; after the Red Sox brought in their absentee ace, Curt Schilling, making his much-hyped first appearance out of the bullpen in the ninth inning, Alex struck. With Gary Sheffield on second base, A-Rod thwacked Schill's first offering to dead center, long and gone. That's all it took: Mariano Rivera came in and struck out the side in the bottom of the frame to put it in the books, an 8-6 win.
The Yankees are now only a game and a half behind the Sox. That's close enough to feel someone breathing on the back of your neck.
Sheffield had a huge night, with two doubles and a homer; Giambi continued his surge, with a solo shot early in the game. But it's Alex who got to have The Moment, the video clip that even the most obtuse fans can look at and agree "You know, I think maybe this Rodriguez guy belongs here."
Kinda embarassing that some fans wouldn't already realize that, but baseball fans can be blockheaded sometimes.
Alex started a tempest in a teapot by saying that he wants to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Cup-style event planned for next March. Now the Commissioner's office steps in and says that the decision is out of Rodriguez's hands, and that Bud Selig will choose where the star thirdbaseman plays. That makes no sense.
Like me, Alex is the US-born child of Dominican parents. The both of us lived "over there" for a while as kids, so I can see why Rodriguez would want to join the Dominican National team, for reasons of ethnic pride. Then again, maybe Alex just thinks he can get better playing time competing with Miguel Tejada, Aramiz Ramirez and Adrian Beltre on the Dominican Squad than up against Scott Rolen, Derek Jeter and Troy Glaus on Team USA. Or maybe he just wants a vacation from Jeter, who knows? It makes no sense that the Commissioner's office is going to tell Rodriguez, much less guys like Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez, who are naturalized Americans, what country they should play for.
Oh--and Jay Jaffe will tell you more about this if you ask him--the All-Star Game sucked. I watched without audio at the pool hall, but apparently the good folks at FOX outdid themselves, insulting Ernie Harwell in the pre-game show, and following that up with a fake conversation between Buck and McCarver about a pre-planned advertising stunt: a banner which the boys knew was a chrysler ad, yet they spent a while discussing the banner's authenticity as if they did not know what was going on. Why does stupid crap like this happen in baseball? Why aren't the broadcasters in the NBA Finals interviewing fictional advertising mascots? Why isn't Madden waxing homoerotic about Tom Brady's "calm eyes" during the SuperBowl? Is it because those sports have some backbone? Maybe they value their dignity?
Will Carroll had an interesting piece about credibility and the media the other day, which I thought of as I read the controversy over this. McCarver and Buck are damaged goods after this. Their credibility is dead to me now. FOX's baseball contract can't be over quickly enough. Beyond stunts like this, you have to consider the ADD editing style they employ, and their belief that the first pitch of every friggin' inning is not an important event.