The new Mr. October
Published: Monday, October 19, 2009
Updated: Monday, October 19, 2009 06:10
For those of you that are unfamiliar with this column (that is, for everyone besides my three loyal readers), I am a diehard New York Yankees fan. I'm also a firm believer that coming through in the "clutch" is a distinct skill (call it Derek Jeter Fan Syndrome).
From those two facts alone, you can probably already see where this piece is going.
The Yankees are 5-0 this postseason, and a huge part of this success has been the clutch performance of Alex Rodriguez — a man that has constantly been disparaged (by me as well as other fans and members of the media) for his inability to come up with a big hit in big spots.
A-Rod's struggles had been well-documented. Coming into this year's playoffs, he was riding an 0-for-29 streak with runners in scoring position in the postseason, dating all the way back to 2004.
My, how quickly things change.
Already this year, A-Rod has hit three huge game-tying home runs in the late innings — with one of them coming off the Twins' perennial All-Star closer Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, and another coming on an 0-2 pitch from Angels closer Brian Fuentes in the 11th inning. A-Rod has set the postseason record for career game-tying home runs in the seventh inning or later — and he's done it in all of five games.
So what's been the difference with Rodriguez? How has he managed to turn his performance around so drastically?
Rodriguez has long been known for all of his management personnel: his agent, Scott Boras, his public relations firm, his specialized "crisis manager" — hell, A-Rod even signed on with a Hollywood talent agency in 2008. As such, anything Rodriguez ever said seemed incredibly contrived and insincere — in other words, it was complete, unadulterated bull.
But after the steroid scandal at the beginning of the season and the month-long break that he took to recover from hip surgery, Rodriguez eschewed all the different voices and opinions in his ear.
Instead, Rodriguez listened only to the Yankees Director of Media Relations Jason Zillo, whose advice for A-Rod was rather simple: Stop talking. Don't throw any more gas on the fire.
And Rodriguez has done exactly that. He barely talked to the media during the year — his only postgame conference during the regular season came after he hit a walkoff, 15th-inning home run against the Red Sox — and even when he does talk, his answers are short, relatively ambiguous and focused on the team. In other words, Rodriguez's comments have become indistinguishable from those made by the eternally media-savvy Derek Jeter.
But that's not all that changed for A-Rod. Not only is he keeping his comments out of the sports section of the paper, but he has also started to keep his face out of the tabloids section. No more affair with Madonna, no more distracting divorce from his wife. Just a stable relationship with Kate Hudson, who is universally loved by everyone from the New York media to the Yankees players' wives. (This is a surprisingly difficult feat — just ask Jeter's girl, Minka Kelly.)
For the first time since he's come to New York, Rodriguez seems comfortable both on and off the field. Whether it was his use of performance enhancers in the news, his lower-key personality in the clubhouse or his newfound relationship, A-Rod has finally been liberated from the obvious burdens that he's always suffered as the biggest superstar on baseball's most storied team in professional sports' biggest market.
"Right now, I'm playing with the house's money, basically," A-Rod told the New York Daily News two weeks ago. "I feel like I have nothing to lose."
As long as he keeps playing the way he has, neither he nor the Yankees look like they will anytime soon.
David Heck is a senior majoring in philosophy. He can be reached at David.Heck@tufts.edu.