Alex Rodriguez stumbles in big spot

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez used a measured tone as he criticized himself. He spoke straightforwardly, but with a no-excuses harshness you would normally associate with an over-the-top sports radio show host nicknamed "Bulldog" or "Snake."

Instead, the third baseman of the Yankees was the one flogging himself at his locker in the postgame clubhouse.

"There is no sugarcoating," Rodriguez said about his seventh-inning-ending double play that left two men on in a one-run game. "It is not an acceptable at-bat right there."

After everyone had finally come out of the heat, Rodriguez basically wrote the real story of Wednesday afternoon for the usual throng around his locker.

On a day that saw a Yankee Stadium-record nine homers and a career-high four given up by MLB gopher-ball leader Phil Hughes, the game turned with one out in the seventh.

Down one, with the tying run at third and the go-ahead run at first, Rodriguez had one of those at-bats that will define who he is in his final six years as a Yankee.

The grandiose numbers that will end up making A-Rod more than half a billion dollars by the time he is officially done after 2017 season are long gone.
Now, it is about timing.

An inning earlier, he had a Yankee Stadium-porch solo shot that cut the Braves' lead to 6-3. By the time, he came up in the seventh, it was 6-5.

So there he was under the glare, with a moment he cherished. The Braves had pitched him soft and away all series so A-Rod expected that game plan to stay the same.

Instead, lefty Jonny Venters went with two hard, 90 mph sinkers, the second of which ended up with Rodriguez hitting into an inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play.

Afterward, Rodriguez spit out why that at-bat was the decider in a game that ended up 10-5 Braves.

What is the minimum he should have done there?

"Sacrifice fly there is at the minimum what you need," Rodriguez said. "That at-bat today wasn't acceptable."

What didn't he like about the at-bat?

"You have to get a better pitch to hit," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez -- who loves the intricacies of the game as much as any player in the Yankees' room -- understood the implications of his failure.
"That pitch right there, changes the whole complexion of that game," Rodriguez said. "I'm sure Joe [Girardi] goes to [David] Robertson [in the eighth]."

Instead Boone Logan and Freddy Garcia leaked four more runs and allowed the Braves to double up the Yankees.

The Yankees lost their first series this month, but still have won 20 of their past 26 games. They are off Thursday before another Subway Series showdown in Flushing, beginning Friday.

On Wednesday, the announced crowd of 45,095 was warned over the public address about the excessive heat. With the temperature hitting 94 upon first pitch and rising, the Yankees provided cups of water for fans who normally have to pay five bucks per bottle.

The fans watched as Hughes looked dreadful. He had turned a corner, going 6-1 with a 3.27 ERA over his past eight starts, dropping his ERA from 7.48 to 4.50. But he became the first Yankees starter in nearly three weeks not to go at least six innings, while staking claim to the dubious honor of being the MLB leader in home runs allowed.

Hughes put the Yankees down 6-1 before Girardi finally showed mercy, lifting him with one out in the fifth inning. For another day, it remains to be seen if Hughes is more than a No. 5 starter.

The question if A-Rod is still a legitimate No. 3 or cleanup hitter is a fair one. He is on pace to have fewer than 30 homers and 80 RBIs, while hitting .215 with runners in scoring position. The failure with runners in scoring position has infected all the Yankees' bats, but it hasn't stopped them from winning.

Girardi said if he were a betting man, he would put his money on the number going up. Scanning the names on the Yankees' roster, it is almost impossible to argue.

But what about A-Rod, who is staring at his 37th birthday next month? Girardi said that A-Rod has been "up and down," but he has gotten his walks. What he didn't mention is that is not why Rodriguez is paid so well.

Rodriguez's sixth-inning home run was the 640th homer and 1,925th RBI of his career, moving him past Jimmie Foxx into sole possession of sixth place on the RBI list.

The achievements are less celebrated because of his steroid admission, but are still a testament to the greatness of his career.

The elite player is gone, replaced by a .265 hitter with 11 homers, 32 RBIs and a third baseman who wasn't quite ready to fully self-evaluate.

"I think it is an incomplete," Rodriguez said when asked to assess his season so far. "I think there is a lot of baseball to be played, but I think a lot of people make a lot of things about numbers, home runs and all this, but at the end of the day what really matters are games like today, at-bats like today. Those at-bats, you want to be productive and today I wasn't."

Overall, the Yankees are probably going to come through in the clutch more. Will A-Rod? That is another question.