Friday, June 26, 2009

In A-Rod We Have No Choice But To Trust

As A-Rod goes, so goes the Yankees. At least, that's what it seems like.

Alex Rodriguez broke out of his slump Wednesday with a big, two-run single.

Thursday he picked up right where he left off, going 3-for-5 with a homer -- the 563rd of his career, tying Reggie Jackson for 11th -- and four RBI to lead the Yankees to an 11-7 victory in Atlanta, their second straight.

Starting with his clutch, sixth-inning single Wednesday, A-Rod reached base in eight straight appearances, collecting four hits and six RBI before striking out in the eighth Thursday.

And it's not a coincidence that the offense took off when A-Rod did. The Yankees pounded out 16 hits Thursday and in the last two games, it has scored 19 runs. In the seven previous games, it totaled 18.

It should be clear to anyone who follows this team just how important A-Rod is to its success. The Yankees were mediocre at best in April while Rodriguez was rehabbing his injured hip and took off in May when he returned. When he started slumping in June, the Yankees went into a swoon.

A-Rod is the heartbeat of the lineup, making everyone around him better when he is right ... and dragging down the lineup like a boat's anchor when he hits the skids.

The good news for the Yankees is that it appears A-Rod has gotten himself back on track.

At least it certainly looked like it Thursday.

The Yankees jumped on Braves starter Derek Lowe early and didn't let up. Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon led off with singles to put runners on the corners, but Mark Teixeira grounded into a doubleplay, bringing in Jeter, who went 4-for-5 with 4 runs.

A-Rod then stepped to the plate and crushed a pitch to center to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. It was clear the offense was in a groove as Jorge Posada followed with walk and Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner singled to load the bases, but Cody Ransom, playing second for Robinson Cano, popped to short to end the inning.

The Braves got one back in the bottom half on Yunel Escobar's RBI double off Andy Pettitte, but the Yankees kept pounding away.

A-Rod drove in his second run of the game in the second with a single and the Yankees pushed across three more in the third on Johnny Damon's bases-loaded, two-out triple to make it 6-1.

The Yankees knocked out Lowe with no outs in the fourth when A-Rod reached on an error and Posada singled. Kris Medlan replaced Lowe and struck out Nick Swisher and got Gardner to pop to third, but Ransom delivered a two-run double and Pettitte seemed set to cruise with an 8-1 lead.

Unfortunately, Pettite was not sharp, getting hit hard and knocked out in the fourth.

Yankee killer Garret Anderson led off with a single and Jeff Francoeur doubled to put runners on second and third. Casey Kotchman brought them both in with a double and Pettitte hit pinch hitter Matt Diaz. After Nate McLouth flied to center, Gardner misplayed a pop from Martin Prado, allowing another run to score, making it 8-4. Pettitte battled back to strike out Brian McCann, but he couldn't close out the inning, allowing a two-run single to Escobar, making it 8-6.

Alfredo Aceves (5-1) then replaced Pettitte and struck out Anderson before pitching two scoreless innings to earn the victory.

Pettitte's line wasn't pretty. He allowed six runs, three earned, on seven hits in 3-2/3 innings. He walked three and struck out four, throwing 59 of 95 pitches for strikes.

Pettitte has truly become a bottom of the rotation pitcher, capable of pitching a solid game, but just as likely to produce a dud. The thing about him is that he will battle his way through and usually will keep his team in it.

But on this night, he had more than enough support from the offense.

The Yankees grabbed a little more breathing room in the seventh as A-Rod continued his onslaught with a bases-loaded, two-run single and Damon, who went 3-for-4 with 4 RBI, had an RBI single in the eighth as the Yankees seemed on their way to an uneventful finish.

Unfortunately David Robertson couldn't finish it off, allowing a homer to McCann before putting two on with two out, forcing Mariano Rivera in for the final out and his 16th save of the season and 499th of his career.

Nonetheless, the Yankees ended a six-game trip that started miserably with three losses in four games with two straight wins and roll in the second Subway Series of the year on a bit of a roll.

The Yankees just have to hope A-Rod stays hot for a long time ... or at least until they prove they can win when he's not locked in.

Bad News
Xavier Nady (elbow) removed himself from his rehab game at Triple-A Scranton after making a throw from the outfield. GM Brian Cashman said he's fearing the worst, meaning it's likely Nady will need season-ending Tommy John surgery.

That might mean the Yankees could be in the market for another outfield bat. Stay tuned.

Runners In Scoring Position
6-for-19 (.316)
175-for-665 (.263)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
109-for-397 (.275)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Friday at Mets, 7:10 p.m., SNY, Local TV (check your listings)
CC Sabathia (6-4, 3.71 ERA) vs. Mike Pelphrey (5-2, 4.74)

Yankees are holding their breath that Sabathia's left biceps is fine after he left his last start after 1-1/3 innings.

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