When Bill Simmons makes jokes about A-Rod's propensity for hitting home runs in 9-2 games while staying quiet when the score is closer, it seems vaguely true but obviously unsubstantiated. While we're not sure exactly how un-clutch the $252M man is, we do know that last night's walkoff home run was only his fifth. 445 on his 12-year career, and only five have been game winners. For perspective, that's only four more times than he's been caught slapping the ball out of a first baseman's hand in a dire playoff game against a bitter rival. Also, in his career with the Red Sox -- just four seasons -- David Ortiz has six walkoff bombs.
A-Rod's home run last night, a two-run shot in the 12th that beat the Braves, 4-3, seems to have satiated A-Rods thirst for New York approval. Forgive him, because his feelings have been hurt by all the booing cascading from the Bronx stands. But when you're in the biggest media market in the country, where a lot of people are making less than minimum wage, and you're raking in a little under $26M a year to be slightly above average at something you're supposed to be the best at, you can expect to get booed. That's the fans' priviledge. We don't pay the fans' salary, Joe Torre said after the game, with all the conviction of a manager who knows his owner and GM haven't the slightest idea how to field a winning team anymore. The last few Yankees championship teams, despite sharing the stigma attached to the more recent Yankees high-salaried all-star teams, were actually well put together with a thing called role players. You know, role players, those things teams are proven to need if they want to win a championship in any major sport. But then Jeter became big time, and the Yanks got Clemens (which worked), and suddenly the team abandoned any semblance of sense and went polar, snatching up marquee names like they were Radio City Music Hall. You'd think after seeing the last few World Series teams (including the Red Sox) put together with chemistry and with the mindset of a completed puzzle, it'd wake up the offices in New York. That hasn't happened yet.
Still, the Yankees are 12 games above .500 and only a few games behind the Sox for first in the AL East, and they'll predictably make it close. But with the strength of the AL Central (two of those teams -- I'm guessing the Twins and White Sox -- will make the playoffs), there will only be room for one of the AL's dynasties. With injury problems, a severe lack of pitching depth, and an aging roster, it'll be tough for the Yankees to go deep in the playoffs this year, if they get in the playoffs to begin with.
To see what can happen to a once-proud franchise, the Yankees needed only to look into the other dugout, where the Braves are on a horrific 5-21 skid after winning 14 straight division titles. The Yankees have expunged the depth from their farm systems to win now, and though 3.5 back of the division lead may seem like trouble now, it'll be nothing compared to what's in store if they don't change their philosophies quickly.