Monday, October 5, 2009

A-Rod Provides Quite A Capper

Now that's how you finish off a season.

Alex Rodriguez blasted two homers and drove in an AL-record seven runs in a 10-run sixth inning and the Yankees delivered one last embarrassment this season to the Rays with a 10-2 victory Sunday in Tampa.

The Yankees finish the season with the best record in baseball at 103-59 and a team-record 244 homers. Now they await Tuesday's playoff game in Minneapolis between the Tigers and Twins to learn whom they will playing in the ALDS, starting on Wednesday.

But for A-Rod, it was a special ending to a gratifying season.

The year started poorly with the admission that he had used steroids during his three years in Texas. It got worse when he was forced to have hip surgery and miss the first five weeks of the season.

Who would have imagined at that point that A-Rod would wind up having season like this?

Once he got back on the field, he started with a bang, hitting the first pitch he saw in Baltimore on May 8 for a two-run homer.

He capped it with an amazing sixth inning Sunday, ending his regular season with a grand slam.

In between the Yankees went 90-44 and A-Rod somehow ended up hitting .286 with 30 homers and 100 RBI, the 13th year A-Rod had at least 30 homers and 100 RBI and 12th in a row.

That's a great season for any player. It's even better when you consider that A-Rod ended up playing only 124 games with just 444 at-bats.

Amazing. Simply amazing.

The Yankees started the sixth trailing 2-0, but Johnny Damon led off with a double before the Rays pitched around Mark Teixeira to prevent him from taking the home run crown outright and issued a walk.

A-Rod then stepped up to the plate and demolished a 91 mph fastball from Rays starter Wade Davis and deposited it into the stands in left to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead and break the franchise single-season home run record of 242 set in 2004.

The blast seemed to jump start the offense. Hideki Matsui followed with a single and pinch runner Freddy Guzman then stole second. It's looking more and more likely that Guzman will in fact be on the ALDS roster to provide some late-inning speed. It's a good move that allows the Yankees to start Brett Gardner in a game if the matchup warrants.

Nick Swisher followed with a walk before Andy Sonnanstine relieved Davis and Robinson Cano flied out to center. Melky Cabrera, however, loaded the bases, beating out a slow tapper back to the mound.

Sonnanstine followed by giving the Yankees a gift, failing to field a ground from Jose Molina and allowing Guzman to score.

Derek Jeter then struck out, but Damon picked him up with his second double of the inning to drive in two and make it 6-2.

With first base open and two outs, Joe Maddon elected to intentionally walk Teixeira. Normally that would be a strange move. Why would anyone walk Teixeira to get to A-Rod, especially when A-Rod had just homer earlier in the inning?

But Maddon wanted to make sure injured first baseman Carlos Pena would wind up sharing the AL lead in homers with Teixeira at 39. It worked because Joe Girardi elected to pinch run for Teixeira at that point.

But it also backfired as A-Rod pounded an 0-and-1, 87-mph cutter into the stands in right-center for a grand slam to cap the inning. It was career homer 583 for A-Rod, tying him with Mark McGwire.

Two homers, seven RBI, an some inning.

But it was also clear the Rays weren't playing to actually win this game.

Still Rodriguez's beautiful outburst made a winner of A.J. Burnett, who earned his 100th career victory.

Burnett (13-9, 4.04 ERA) posted his fourth consecutive strong outing. He allowed two runs, one earned, on seven hits and one walk in five innings. He struck out three and threw 55 of 84 pitches for strikes.

He allowed just a first-inning homer to Evan Longoria, who also scored in the fifth on Molina's passed ball.

In between, Burnett was efficient and had a good rhythm. He sure looks ready for the playoffs, and that has every Yankee fan breathing a little easier.

The Yankees then made sure the bullpen stayed sharp, using five relievers to pitch four perfect innings, including Joba Chamberlain, who threw just seven pitches, hit 95 mph with his fastball and struck out one in a dominant seventh inning.

The good news is that despite all the messing the Yankees did with his head, Joba still appears to have that bullpen magic he had when he first burst into the majors.

The bad news is that the Yankees put him through hell for no good reason. It is clear that by first staggering Joba's starts and then limiting him to three innings an outing, the Yankees ultimately hurt his development. August and September were a total waste for the 24-year-old righthander ... and it's a shame because he had started to fulfill his potential in July.

But that's now an issue to be dealt with in the offseason.

It's playoff time!

The quest for 27 is on.

Runners In Scoring Position
Sunday
5-for-14 (.375)
Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
202-for-724 (.279)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
354-for-1,270 (.279)
Vs. Red Sox
45-for-204 (.221)

Up Next
ALDS, Wednesday vs. Twins or Tigers, 6:07 p.m., TBS
TBA vs. CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37)

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