Yesterday I quoted a passage from Roger Angell about Reggie Jackson. Angell wrote that no matter what Reggie Jackson did at the plate--make a weak out, get a single or hit a home run--it was "full value." I feel the same way about Alex Rodriguez in a way that I haven't for any player since probably Reggie himself. At the very least, I don't know that I've craved full value from a player more than anyone since Reggie. It's an infantile reaction yet one that is also based on an adult's appreciation of greatness.
At some point in my twenties I really started appreciating great players simply for being great. Players that I might have found a reason to despise as a kid--because I didn't like their name or the way they looked--I became resigned to appreciating. It's as if there was an invisible line in my mind and after a guy surpassed it and reached a certain level of excellence it was my responsibility to admire them first and foremost. Everything else was about my petty hang-ups. Unless of course I thought he was a mook because of something I knew about him off-the-field, like he beat his wife or something like that.
It's not that Rodriguez necessarily provides full value in all of his at-bats, it's that we demand it from him and when he fails it has a weight that seperates him from other players, even other great players. It's the money, the looks and the talent. I've seen Rodriguez in the locker room and he has the self-possessed narcissicm of an elite model. He knows you want to stare at him. He looks like Superman and he's pretty too. He almost glows. But most of all, it is the blinding talent. The pursuit of something perfect. I love the drama of that. That a strikeout or a failure to drive in a runner from second seems bigger, deeper with Rodriguez.
I derive full value from his at bats because of the expectations I place on them. For me, each of his at-bats holds the promise of getting to watch one of the great all time players do something great. It's like sheer sensation. Rodriguez's swing was mentioned as one of the finest thing in sports in a terrific thread over at YankeefanvsSox fan on Friday that was sparked by Mark Lamster's appreciation of Mariano Rivera.
Just standing in the box, he looks like the ulitimate hitter. He's greater than Reggie Jackson and yet lacks the thing that made Jackson great, separated him from the other great players, the thing that has made Jeter great. But there is value in watching Rodriguez fail because he is playing for immortality.
On Friday night against Glen Perkins, the Twins' young left-hander, Rodriguez provided full value in each of his first three at-bats. Early during his first time up Rodriguez ripped a ball foul down the left field line. His swing was so quick, he hit it so hard that he smiled as he got back in the box. (According to Michael Kay, Rodriguez had put on a show during bp.) He worked the count and then smashed a line drive right at the shortstop, knocking him two steps back. Rodriguez's swing was perfect and when he bounced out of his follow-through, he stood erect as if to punctuate just how hard he had just struck the ball. It was the move of a Roman emperor, regal, arrogant, justified. Even in making an out, Rodriguez had won.
In his next at bat, Rodriguez worked the count and then drilled a liner to left for an RBI single. He stood up again after his follow through. At first I was a little taken aback, thinking he might have had a chance at a double if he had been running instead of admiring. But after seeing the replay, his display, while no less cocky, was understandable because he knew that he had hit the ball too hard get a double. The next time up, Rodriguez crushed a line drive over the centerfielder's head for an RBI double and drove Perkins from the game. But the at bat was such a pleasure to watch--Rodriguez locked in, laying off the weak stuff, getting good hacks at the rest, even the few that he swung through--that the outcome seemed secondary.
He was grazed by the second pitch the next time up and hit a high pop fly that dropped in front of a diving Carlos Gomez for a hustle double in the ninth.
In addition to Rodriguez, Abreu had three hits including two triples. Melky had three hits, and Hideki Matsui continued to deliver. He's on such a hot streak that it seems as if his every blooper and bleeder drives in a run. The Yanks had 16 hits in all. Mike Mussina was hurt by Shelley Duncan's error in the first which led to four runs, but he didn't completely lose it, went six, and improved his record to 8-4. Farmadooke gave up an eighth inning solo shot to Justin Morneau which closed a Yankee lead to 6-5, before Mariano Rivera closed the door in the ninth.
Mike Lamb swung at the first pitch Rivera threw him, cracked his bat, and softly lined the ball at Rivera's feet. The sound of the ball coming off the bat was piteful. Brendan Harris got in two good hacks, worked the count full and then took a cutter, low on the inside corner for ball four. A pitch Rivera usually gets. Gomez fouled off the second pitch from Rivera and broke his bat. He lunged and fouled off a cutter, outside, and then waved at another one, further outside, for strike three.
"School is in session," said Ken Singleton on the YES broadcast.
Pinch-hitter Craig Monroe took a called strike on the outside corner then laid off a fastball, high. He swung late and through another cutter and ended the game looking down as a pee at the knees crossed the outside corner. Precision. Artistry. Something close to perfection.