On a warmy, muggy evening in the nation's capital, the Yankees appeared poised to lose the opening game of a three-game series against the Nationals. The Bombers would leave thirteen men on base on the night, as Alex Rodriguez struggled again--striking out with two men on in the seventh and then again with the bases loaded in the eighth. But the Yanks were saved by good ol' Bernie Williams. Williams had a sorry arm as a center fielder and now has an almost embarrasingly poor one as a right fielder--the Nationals scored their fourth and fifth runs by testing it. But Williams collected four hits, including a double and a solo home run in the top of the ninth which gave the Yanks the lead for good. Williams traditionally heats up when the weather gets warm and he's now got his average up to a respectable .286.
Mariano Rivera was forced into the game in the eighth inning after Kyle Farnsworth left the game with back spasms (early word has Farnsworth missing the rest of the series in Washington). Rivera retired all five men he faced to earn the save. It was a long, frustrating game to watch, but hey, a win is a win and the Bombers will take it. Final score: Yanks 7, Nats 5, before the largest baseball crowd RFK has seen since baseball re-opened for business in DC last year. Some old friends, Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano hit well for the 'Nats in the loss.
Rodriguez offered a blunt assesment of his performance to reporters two nights ago. Last night, he was furious after striking out in the eighth. His reaction reminded me a little bit of when Bob Welch struck out Reggie Jackson early in the 1978 World Serious. Obviously, the situation and the at bat weren't nearly as dramatic, but man, Rodriguez was hot after he whiffed.
[Manager, Joe] Torre was pleased to see that emotion, saying that it showed that Rodriguez was not denying his frustration anymore. After that at-bat, A-Rod said, Mattingly told him that he believed A-Rod was leaning his weight too far forward, keeping him off-balance and rendering his swing weak.
Mattingly likened the mechanical fault to a "car-wreck" in which a player's body is moving forward as the ball is coming at him; ideally, the player should stay back and wait for the ball to come to him. "It's a relief when you have an issue and you can go address it," Rodriguez said. "I can't wait to get in there and contribute more. I want to do special things like I always do."
Last Saturday, Tim McCarver commented that he couldn't ever recall seeing Rodriguez so out-of-whack at the plate, noting that Rodriguez's normally smooth swing was choppy and that he looked unbalanced at the plate.
Rodriguez is shifting forward in the batter's box, Mattingly said, instead of keeping his weight back. It is a common problem for slumping hitters.
"He's not able to ride his back leg at all," Mattingly said. "We've got to get that back to where he can stay on that back leg and carry that weight. He's got to be gliding, not falling."
..."It's not mental," Rodriguez said. "I was so excited for those last two at-bats. I was probably a little bit too excited. I was aggressive. I really enjoyed the at-bats; I just didn't enjoy the results."
(Kepner, N.Y. Times)
It has been painful to watch Rodriguez struggle. But I have no doubt that the reigning AL MVP will eventually fight his way out of this slump and put up his usual big numbers by the time all said and done. Ramon Ortiz goes for the 'Nats today. Maybe that'll help get Rodriguez cooking. At least Giambi (two doubles last night), Jeter, Cano, Jorge (two hits last night), Damon, Melky, and our boy Bernie will be ready for the barbeque!