Coming in to this season, Alex Rodriguez had two demons with which he needed to wrestle: (1) his public relations issues; and (2) his reputation as a playoffs choker. Based on how things are going, he’s beating the demons handily.
On the P.R. front, A-Rod has bounced back nicely since the low point of his outing as a steroids user over the offseason. Some rather boring and tame Kate Hudson stories aside, he has kept himself off the tabloids’ back pages. Indeed, since coming back from the hip injury, he has more or less put his head down, played ball, and has utterly failed to make waves. Whether this is because of a conscious change in approach to life on his part or simply a function of the New York press growing tied of writing about him is unclear, but either way, demon number one appears to be vanquished.
The playoffs. At the outset it’s probably worth noting that, contrary to his reputation, Rodriguez is not a complete playoff non-entity. Yes, if you start counting from Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS you would be completely accurate to say that Rodriguez has been a zero, having failed to drive in a run with men on base in 27 straight opportunities. Such an observation would be misleading in the grand scheme because it fails to acknowledge that he was a beat in the 2000 ALCS against the Yankees, the 2004 ALDS against the Twins, and probably would have been the ALCS MVP that year if the Yankees didn’t choke Game 4 and the rest of the series away. But yes, it would still be accurate to say that the guy has struggled since.
Until last night. 3-2 Yankees, a man on second in the fifth inning. A single to left, Jeter comes home, playoff RBI drought broken. A-Rod haters probably aren’t used to the image of the guy standing on first base clapping his hands following an RBI in a key situation — that’s Jeter’s image — but there Rodriguez was, having done what people somehow think him incapable of doing. And he did it again in the seventh inning for good measure.
What has come over A-Rod? Maybe nothing. Maybe he’s still kind of a weirdo but no one wants to write about him anymore. Maybe the haters are right and he really is some sort of pathological choker and doesn’t know how to approach the postseason and last night’s RBIs are simply a matter of chance and small sample sizes coming back around again.
But maybe A-Rod has also grown up a little. Maybe he has heeded my colleague Bert Blyleven’s advice and has simply decided to enjoy the playoffs, have fun, and stop listening to the people who want to bring him down. The power of positive thinking and all that.
Whatever the case, it’s nice to see the guy break out of the box he’s been in for so long, put his head down and take care of business on the ballfield. If, as I suspect will be the case, the Yankees go on to win their 27th title, A-Rod’s transformation will be remembered as a key part of that.