October Rodriguez

October 11, 2009

I was having trouble putting any thoughts on paper about the baseball playoffs, but Alex Rodriguez wrote the words for me.

It’s October and though I’ve taken interest in English football, it only takes one sniff of postseason baseball to bring me back to where I should be. The world’s game, for all its merits, concludes inconclusively every season as leagues determine champions by the number of points you accrue over a season. It all ends anticlimactically with one team higher on the table than the rest. Give ’em the Barclays trophy, tie some Carlsberg ribbons around the handles, fire off some streamers, and that’s after a 1-1 tie.

Not baseball. In October the air gets crisp, crowds layer up, and every high-five stings a little longer as autumn greets the playoffs. October baseball is a tunnel, with eight teams sprinting for light until ultimately only one survives the attrition.

Cities put pressure on its players in the postseason, and no city has put more pressure on any player this decade than New York has Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees, with their three new mercenaries (Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett) razed the toughest division in baseball to enter October as favorites, and in 2009 boast a camaraderie that the team hasn’t oozed in years.

Alex Rodriguez finally cured his media-and-fan diagnosed postseason anemia, driving in two runs in the first game and hitting an heroic two-run, game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of game two – the kind of hit that instantly bronzes itself in the hippocampus of millions. “He’s great when you’re up by eight, but garbage in the playoffs,” said petulant Yankees fans, who vilified the game’s best player for years but now slap him on the back and buy him a beer after just hitting one ball 400 feet.

No other sport decides its champion in a playoffs sized so proportionally small as baseball’s, where you need to win 11 after playing 162. The game’s objective pragmatists bellow at the arbitrary results that come from a “small sample size” of playoffs games, and indeed this should render the criticism of players like Rodriguez moot. He’d only had 94 playoff at-bats with the Yankees coming into this season.

But it doesn’t, and baseball’s playoffs are better for it. The playoffs bring pressure. They bring blown calls, walkoffs and errors that linger for years and most of all, the playoffs bring transformative moments.

Alex Rodriguez knew how baseless the cries of his playoff inability were from critics and fans who demanded even more courage.

More than anyone, Rodriguez would always be the one to silence his critics with a storybook moment of his own.

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