The third baseman.
George Steinbrenner could have directed his ire in any direction last night after his Yankees were ceremoniously embarrassed in a 14-3 laugher by the Red Sox in the Bronx. There was plenty of it to go around. But one target, as he always seems to do in these affairs, came to mind.
It wasn’t the erratic Randy Johnson, who probably couldn’t have knocked down David Ortiz if he tried, based on his control problems last night.
Nor was it Melky “Cereal” Cabrera, who in the fourth inning looked like Wile E. Coyote at the bottom of the cliff, pacing to decide which direction to run in to escape the falling piano.
It wasn’t Johnny Damon, who remains without a hit against his former mates this year. Not Aaron Small, who gave up a bomb to Alex Gonzalez of all people. Nor Bernie Williams for tossing his helmet at home plate umpire Charlie Reliford in an act of disgust, an action that got him tossed from the game and should result in a suspension of some ilk. It wasn’t even Tanyon Sturtze, just for being Tanyon Sturtze.
Nope. As so often is the case when the Red Sox and Yankees face off, it was Alex Rodriguez at the center of the criticism storm, even after a game during which so many humiliating factors contributed to such a lopsided defeat.
After he watched Rodriguez make two errors in the field, contributing to four unearned runs, and go 0 for 3 at the dish, a furious Steinbrenner stormed out of Yankee Stadium in the top of the eighth inning last night. He wasn’t alone. By the end of the night it looked like the Red Sox were playing in Kansas City.
“Clearly, The Boss didn't think much of the Yanks, who came into last night's game in a virtual first-place tie with Boston,” writes Dan Martin of the New York Post. “He had a chance to take a shot at his 42-year-old supposed ace, Randy Johnson, who coughed up seven runs and five walks in just 3 2/3 innings.
“But Steinbrenner, who last year rarely left before the end of games, avoided blasting Johnson and instead said, ‘I'm upset at a lot of them.’
"Then, without being solicited, he added, ‘The third baseman.’”
The third baseman.
What is it with this guy? We’re continually hounded with the assessment that he should be considered the greatest player in the game, probably one of the best to ever pick up a wooden stick and swing it at cowhide. And while he’s been consistent against Boston over the years (he hit .271 against the Red Sox last season, .306 in 2004), he has repeatedly been at the epicenter of disparagement. The shove. The slap. The third baseman.
“It's not as if A-Rod has never delivered for the Yankees,” writes the New York Daily News’s John Harper. “It's just that the failures have been so much more memorable: the 1-for-17 on his first trip to Fenway as a Yankee; the silent bat over the final four games of the 2004 ALCS, the historic collapse against the Sox; the double-play ground ball in the ninth inning last October against the Angels.”
Rodriguez hasn’t exactly gotten off to the best of starts this season either, hitting just .259 with six home runs. Meanwhile, his $20 million counterpart on the other side of the field, Manny Ramirez, is up to .321 and hit his sixth homer last night after his own slow start to the year. There was a time not too long ago, remember, when the Red Sox and their fans were salivating over the prospect of A-Rod manning shortstop in place of Nomar Garciaparra, and shipping Ramirez away in place of Magglio Ordonez. Remember? Huh?
Since then, A-Rod has continually embarrassed himself when these teams meet head-to-head, Ramirez has won a World Series MVP, Garciaparra has played in about 17 games, and Detroit’s Ordonez is enjoying his first productive season since the last time we even mentioned that trade. It’s like wasting every night and day going after the head cheerleader in high school, only to finally realize obsessive months later she’s a wench. And your current girlfriend ... well, gee when did she blossom as such?
“He's the red sleigh on a mountain of untouched snow, the yellow jacket in a glee club of blue jackets. He stands out. He always has. He always will,” writes “Brushback” Mike Vaccaro in today’s Post. “And in this series, this rivalry, that will be the case forever -- partly because he was almost a Red Sox player, partly because last year he won a close MVP battle with David Ortiz, a race that was too close to call the whole way and one that many people still think went the wrong way. Naturally, last night, Ortiz seemed to break out of a terrible slump. A-Rod had his 0-fer.”
“His 0-fer,” as if he eternally possesses it. The third baseman.
Yankee fans have a lot of material to work with when they look for a goat, and A-Rod made it look so easy last night that they might even overlook Johnson’s awful evening by reasoning only two of the seven runs were earned. (The five walks though sort of illustrate the lack of control on his part.) They have seen the worst out of Rodriguez in 2006, after all. He’s batted just .200 at Yankee Stadium, is homerless there, has just four runs batted in, and has struck out an average of once per game.
He’s the reigning MVP, but hardly ever does it seem he comes up with the big hit, much less against the Red Sox. When the pressure’s on, the guy who SHOULD have taken home the MVP in 2005, David Ortiz, is always on. A-Rod, more often than not, wilts.
Had he made it to Yawkey Way, he would have become the perfect poster boy for the former Yankee fan assessment of the Red Sox being choke artists, helping contribute to another decade of losing the big one in Boston. Instead, Steinbrenner, perhaps spurred as much by being able to stick it to Larry Lucchino than acquiring another All-Star player, swooped in and picked up the tab. Maybe, in fact, this was Boston’s plan all along, trick the Yankees into acquiring the guy, realizing full well that as great a player as he is, he will choke when the time is right.
For that, he is the number one target in New York. The third baseman.