Ro­driguez’ 600th homer as­sured, but what’s next?

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Bob Klapisch

NEW YORK — Any day now, Alex Ro­driguez will hit his 600th home run, putting him in the com­pany of just six other slug­gers to reach that mark. Some of the his­tory-mak­ers are dirty, oth­ers like Hank Aaron will be eter­nally revered.

A-Rod is one of the darker an­gels, a fact he doesn’t dis­pute. Fol­low­ing his con­fes­sion of steroid use from 2001-2003, the Yan­kees’ third base­man for­feited any le­git­i­mate claim to Barry Bonds’ all-time record — even if there was a di­a­bol­i­cal sym­me­try be­tween them. One cor­rupt record was bound to be re­placed by an­other.

But A-Rod’s count­down to 762 seems less im­por­tant now, be­cause it’s im­pos­si­ble to know how many of his homers weren’t chem­i­cally en­hanced. And sec­ond, no one’s sure Ro­driguez has an­other 164 homers in him, not at the di­min­ished rate he’s hit­ting them.

Ro­driguez’ de­cline in his age-34 sea­son has been slow and in­sid­i­ous, but it’s nev­er­the­less been un­mis­tak­able. He’s hit just 15 HRs, which puts him on a pace to fin­ish with fewer than 30 for the first time since 1997, back when he was a 21-year-old short­stop in Seat­tle.

Al­most ev­ery other as­pect of Ro­driguez’s of­fen­sive game has come down a notch, as well, in­clud­ing his bat­ting av­er­age (30 points un­der his ca­reer mark), slug­ging per­cent­age (81 points) and on-base per­cent­age plus slug­ging (121 points). Ro­driguez has vir­tu­ally stopped steal­ing bases (just four at­tempts all year) and his de­fense, while still re­spectable, is no longer Gold Glove cal­iber.

It’s true, the Yan­kees aren’t ex­actly suf­fer­ing from A-Rod’s (rel­a­tive) de­cay; they’re still the Amer­i­can League’s No. 2 of­fense be­hind the Red Sox. But the Bombers’ fire­power is largely due to Robin­son Cano’s ca­reer year. The sec­ond base­man is so dan­ger­ous to op­pos­ing pitch­ers, he should’ve given A-Rod the kind of lineup pro­tec­tion cleanup hit­ters die for.

Pub­licly, the coach­ing staff still speaks con­fi­dently of the break-out month that’s com­ing, one of those 10-12 home run or­gies that’ll re­mind ev­ery­one of Ro­driguez’s past great­ness. Hit­ting in­struc­tor Kevin Long says, “there’s no doubt in my mind Alex is still ca­pa­ble of that. It’s go­ing to come.”

To be fair, Ro­driguez has worked tire­lessly to re­fine his me­chan­ics; if there was a di­rect link be­tween ef­fort and re­sults, Ro­driguez would’ve been the home run king long ago.

But A-Rod is learn­ing that sweat is no match for laws of na­ture. Ev­ery 30-some­thing ath­lete hits the same wall, some sooner than oth­ers, where the mus­cles don’t fire as quickly. It’s a sub­tle be­trayal of the re­flexes, cer­tainly not dra­matic enough to ruin A-Rod. But he’s no longer re­al­is­ti­cally be­ing com­pared to Al­bert Pu­jols, just as he’s no longer the best third base­man in the AL East (it’s the Rays’ Evan Longoria).

Hit­ting .274 with only bet­ter-than-av­er­age power isn’t ex­actly how A-Rod en­vi­sioned lat­ter stages of his ca­reer. Bar­ring a long hot streak, Ro­driguez’s trend line will have the Yan­kees won­der­ing how much he’ll look like at 40. He is, af­ter all, signed for an­other seven years. From the day he agreed to his 10-year ex­ten­sion in 2007, Ro­driguez gave off an aura of in­vin­ci­bil­ity of a can’t-miss, fu­ture home run cham­pion who, un­like Bonds, was clean.

It was a mar­ket­ing bo­nanza just wait­ing to hap­pen. All ARod had to do was stay healthy and keep dent­ing those fast­balls. But then came the steroids scan­dal, fol­lowed by hip surgery. And now it’s time to pick up the check: a slow crawl to No. 600, which isn’t just ac­com­pa­nied by an as­ter­isk, it feels empty to ev­ery­one who’s along for the ride. Maybe even to Ro­driguez him­self.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.