A homer fest in Toronto

The Yankees needed a win in the worst way. They got it thanks to the big bats and a strong pitching performance from Andy Pettite. They hit four home runs for a 7-1 win over the Blue Jays squaring the series in Toronto. Alfonso Soriano went deep twice highlighted by a three-run bomb off J.A. Happ in a four-run first. Derek Jeter started the scoring by plating leadoff man Brett Gardner with an RBI single. After Happ plunked Robinson Cano, Soriano crushed a fastball right over the plate for his 10th in Pinstripes.

Of more concern was Cano, who after staying in the game initially left for X-rays. He was hit on the left hand. Thankfully, it was negative. He has a bruised hand and shouldn’t miss much time. Crucial to the Yanks’ chances. At this point, it’s do or die. A disappointing weekend series in Tampa that saw them lose twice followed by Phil Hughes’ latest horrific outing had the Yankees in a slide.

Soriano later slugged his 400th career homer just clearing the left field fence. With Pettite on cruise control tossing seven scoreless, A-Rod ripped his second dinger in two days. A long blast to left added the PAT. He has four homers since returning. For those keeping score, it was Rodriguez’ 651st career home run. A great player regardless. Unfortunately, he’ll have a big asterisk next to his name when his career ends.

Pettite walked two and fanned three. He has won three straight decisions. Andy’s doing his part. Now about C.C. Sabathia? He didn’t pitch poorly in Saturday’s loss to the Rays. But the big southpaw fell apart in the sixth after dominating the first five innings. Too often, that’s been the case. If the Yanks can get a strong final month from their cash cow, it’d go a long way to making a push. As for Hughes, I don’t see how you can live with him every fifth day. These games are too important. Joe Girardi must give him the quick hook the first chance he gets into trouble.

Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney blew the save in the Rays’ 6-5 loss. With the A’s winning a rain shortened game over a more hittable Justin Verlander, Tampa still leads Oakland by a half game for the top wildcard. They’re five clear of the Yanks while the Athletics are four and a half up. Of more concern, the Indians continue to hang around. They were shutout by Atlanta 2-0 but are two back. Baltimore got hammered by Boston 13-2. Shane Victorino homered twice. The Orioles lead the Yanks by a half game for third in the division.

SORIANO 400 HOMER BREAKDOWN

Team          HR

NYY            109

TEX             64

WSH           46

CHI             181

TOTAL        400

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Angels snap Yankee win streak at four

It was a sub par day in the Bronx. The Yankees saw their four-game win streak snapped by the Angels falling 8-4 in the final game of the series. They had taken the first three against a listless ballclub that’s basically playing out the string. A far cry from what the Halos used to be under Mike Scioscia. It figures that the losing pitcher was Phil Hughes. He only gave up three runs including one of two home runs to Chris Nelson who sadly hadn’t hit one all year. Against Hughes, no problem. He’s now allowed 23 long balls in 23 starts. Even if you’re not a math major, that’s god awful. He did manage to go six and struck out five, giving Joe Girardi a rare quality start. The Yankee skipper stuck with Hughes with a runner on in the fifth against Josh Hamilton, who just missed a two-run shot.

Despite Hughes falling to an atrocious 4-12, it was the Yankee bats that failed before the bullpen ultimately ended any thoughts of a comeback. Despite 15 hits, they only scored four times including only once against Los Angeles ace C.J. Wilson, who toughed out six and two thirds throwing 124 pitches to notch his 13th win. The Yanks’ offense just couldn’t maintain the pace set by sizzling pick up Alfonso Soriano the past two days. Soriano followed up a two homer, six RBI game Tuesday with a multi-homer, seven RBI effort yesterday. He’s caught fire and has driven in 14 the past three games including a RBI base hit today. Unfortunately, Vernon Wells bounced into an inning ending twin killing leaving the bases loaded in the home third. The Halos then pushed across two in the fourth to go in front for good. Bomber bats left 22 runners on base.

Girardi stayed a little too long with Boone Logan in an Angel five-run eighth highlighted by a Nelson grand slam. The pedestrian Joba Chamberlain threw fire onto it by giving up another run to put his team down seven with six outs left. To the Yankees’ credit, they mounted a rally in their final at bat scoring three times. Robinson Cano singled home a run and Wells delivered a two out two-run double to pull them within 8-4. If only Alex Rodriguez didn’t fan against Dane De La Rosa. Of course, the much maligned third baseman was booed. What for? As universally loathed as A-Rod is, the team has started winning again since he returned. Coincidence? Say what you want about him but just his mere presence improves the lineup. He has swung the bat better than expected picking up a pair of hits in five at bats. Throw in Soriano and the Yankee lineup is no longer a pushover. They need more from Cano, who hasn’t carried the team like a franchise player is supposed to in his walk year. If he wants that rich contract, start earning it.

The Yankees nearly sent the tying run to the plate but Eduardo Nunez bounced out to Mark Trumbo to end it. They fall to 62-58 and look like they’ll lose a game to Oakland, who at last check were up 5-0 on Houston in the sixth. Tampa Bay plays later against Seattle. The Yanks entered today five and a half behind the A’s for the second wildcard. They’ll still have to climb over Kansas City, Cleveland and slumping Baltimore, who keep losing in the final at bat in Arizona. Guess Jim Johnson couldn’t duplicate last year. Just another closer who’s not in the same class as Mariano Rivera. Speaking of Mo, he got some much needed rest during the four-game series. He didn’t pitch once since blowing his third consecutive save to the Tigers and should be fresh for a big weekend series against the first place Red Sox at Fenway.

The Yankees can’t afford a slip up. They are continuing to be written off by the “experts” at ESPN. Sports Center no longer has them in the wildcard standings. It just got a little tougher. They’ll trail by at least six tomorrow. Maybe if the Yanks can  deliver a big three games at beloved Boston, it’ll awaken the hierarchy at Bristol. Until then, a team that’s missed the playoffs once since 1995 are in an unlikely role as underdogs. Get your rally caps on.

 

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A-Rod’s return can’t save Yankees

When cameras flashed Monday for the controversial return of Alex Rodriguez in Chicago, it only disrupted the hard truth about the 2013 Yankees. They’re not good. One of baseball’s worst teams, the White Sox confirmed that by smacking around Andy Pettite for seven runs in two and two thirds turning the most anticipated game of the season into an 8-1 laugher.

Chicago entered last night 29 games under .500 having scored four total runs in their last four games. Against Pettite, scoring wasn’t a problem. They didn’t hit many balls hard but made good contact against the 41-year old who looks done. He hasn’t been the same since returning in June. He’s allowed at least four runs in nine of his last 12 starts. Granted. In a few, his defense didn’t help. You can make the argument that he pitched better the last two times out holding the Rangers and Dodgers to two runs, which should’ve been good enough to win. Not on this punch and Judy roster. Andy is 7-9 with a 4.71 ERA in what probably is his last season. It would be nice to see him finish strong. Unless he can solve the first inning woes, don’t expect it.

Pettite is far from alone. C.C. Sabathia has been a disaster since the All-Star Break. He’s lost three of four starts and permitted 27 runs (22 ER). When even bad teams like Minnesota and San Diego are knocking you around, something’s wrong. Let’s not forget he’s a year removed from offseason elbow surgery. Perhaps the wear and tear has caught up to the 33-year old southpaw. No one would dispute that Sabathia is a horse who logs a ton of innings. Since ’07 with Cleveland, he’s thrown at least 200 innings in six straight seasons. That includes 241.0 (’07), a combined 253.0 with the Indians and Brewers (’08), 230.0 with the Yankees (’09), 237.2 in his second year with the Yanks (’10), 237.1 in Year 3 (’11) and 200.0 in ’12. This year, he’s already allowed a career worst 24 home runs. Opponents are batting .276. In 152.2 innings pitched, he’s given up 168 hits, walked 38 and struck out 132. The walk to strikeout ratio is fine. It’s the alarming number of hits and long balls that are cause for concern. Most of the damage has been done by righty batters, who are hitting .286 with 19 homers. Against lefties, C.C. is still effective holding them to .245 with five dingers. His situational stats show a starter who’s unable to get the big outs. Unless he gets it fixed, the Yanks are sunk.

They probably are anyway. Even with legendary closer Mariano Rivera performing remarkably in his final hurrah, there are just too many holes. Phil Hughes continues to serve batting practice allowing 20 homers and pitching to a 4-10 record with a 4.87 ERA. At 27, the former ’04 first round pick has been a bust. He did provide one good year helping set up for Rivera in ’09 en route to the Yanks’ 27th world championship. Unfortunately, he’s never been consistent as a starter. It looks like he and Joba Chamberlain will be looking for work elsewhere. The Joba story isn’t even worth discussing. One look at him on the mound is enough.

Injuries have derailed the Yanks most of the year. Curtis Granderson finally returned and hit a home run to help resurgent starter Ivan Nova win a game at San Diego. At least Nova has rediscovered himself. He’s been the second best pitcher to Hiroki Kuroda, who looks to end another losing skid. If Kuroda were on another team, he might be the frontrunner for the Al Cy Young. Amazing to think how far Yankee bats have sunk or stunk. Take your choice.

Derek Jeter once again is on the DL. More and more, it’s looking like the Captain’s pride is getting in the way. Nobody is as respected as the Yankee shortstop. His home run in his first at bat back against Tampa was storybook like his career. He’s now on the mend again with a strained right calf. Trying to comeback from a broken ankle at his age is much harder. That’s why he shouldn’t have rushed back. He’s 39. Not 29. Such a shame because at 38, he had a great 2012 hitting .316 with 15 homers and 58 RBI’s in 159 games. Amazing stuff. That fall in Game 1 of the ALCS against Detroit changed everything. If they were smart, the Yanks would just shut him down. But it’s Rivera’s final year and they’re trying to make one last October. They’re stuck.

It’d be easy to point at the role players like Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay. The Yanks have gotten as much as can be expected from the trio who’ve combined for 34 homers and 122 RBIs. In fact, Overbay continues to deliver big hits like a recent ninth inning game-winning hit against the Dodgers. Astonishingly, his 12 dingers are tied for second with Hafner behind Robinson Cano (21 HR) and 47 runs knocked rank second to Cano (70).

Cano leads the Yanks in all three categories (.288-21-70). At 30, the All-Star second baseman is supposed to be the leader. Instead, he can’t be bothered to hustle out of the box. The latest example came in the first with A-Rod on deck. He lined one down the left field line that should’ve been an easy double. Because he didn’t run hard initially, a close play saw him not get the call at second to end the first. Replays showed that he got in ahead of the tag. Maybe if he didn’t lollygag, there wouldn’t have been such a close play. The talent Cano possesses is among the best in baseball. He will get a significant raise after the season. The Yankees can’t afford to let him go. How much are you going to pay a guy who still doesn’t get it? We’re talking at least seven years and probably $140 million to start. Your best player needs to play like it. They should show him tapes of Dustin Pedroia, who recently signed an extension with Boston for seven years, $100 million. You never have to question his effort.

The Yanks must also decide what to do with Granderson, who becomes a free agent after the year. Does all the injuries play a role and bring him back to the Bronx? They definitely need his bat. Maybe they can get him on a shorter deal. The Yankees’ offensive woes were on display. They had three chances to get in two runners at second and third. Instead, Granderson popped up on the first pitch, Ichiro popped out and Eduardo Nunez chased a pitch way up for strike three. Nunez’ plate discipline is a concern. He should be better at this point. Maybe it’s the lack of at bats in another incomplete season. He’s batting .224 with 0 homers, 11 RBI’s and has a .282 on-base percentage. He’s walked only 11 times and struck out 30 in 156 at bats. At 26, his defense remains suspect with throws still an issue at short. Maybe they should just make him an outfielder. The addition of Alfonso Soriano probably prevents it if Granderson returns. Melky Mesa got into five games going 5-for-13 before Granderson was activated. There’s also speedster Zoilo Almonte, who’s been on the DL with an ankle sprain. Are any of these guys solutions or are the Yanks waiting on Slade Heathcott or Mason Williams? Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia has hit well for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Meanwhile, David Phelps and Michael Pineda had setbacks. So much for that Pineda for Jesus Montero deal. Montero just accepted a 50-game suspension as one of 12 players named for Biogenesis yesterday. If you include Melky Cabrera and Francisco Cervelli, that’s three guys who could’ve been connected to A-Rod if you buy into MLB’s investigation. Why else would they announce a 211-game ban for him? Of course, he’s ‘fighting for his life,’ as he put it at the latest press conference Monday. While everyone else has accepted their suspensions including disgraced former NL MVP Ryan Braun (65 games), Rodriguez continues to fight till the bitter end. He’s not doing anything wrong. Even if he’s a conceited liar, he’s simply exercising his player rights to appeal until there’s a hearing. He went 1-for-4 in his 2013 debut getting a bloop single in his first at bat. He also drove two balls deep and was caught looking. For now, he’ll try to help his teammates score runs. It can’t save a mediocre team hanging on by a thread.

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The sad tale of a Clown: A-Fraud

A-Rod’s portrayal as a Yankee. Mike Keefe, Denver Post

 

One day soon, the circus that is Alex Rodriguez will face the music. It can’t soon enough. Once seen as the greatest player of this era, the egotistical third base slugger has written a sad final chapter that hasn’t been completed even if defeated.

When it comes to the circus, Ringling Barnum And Bailey has nothing on A-Rod. The latest installment is his insistence that he went for a ‘second opinion’ on the Grade 1 quad strain that was discovered after an MRI with the Yankees. To everyone’s amazement except A-Rod lackey Mike Francesa, Dr. Michael Gross made a curious appearance on Mike’d On to discuss his ‘diagnosis.’ The Good Doctor claimed Rodriguez was healthy and didn’t have any pain.

“Nobody paid me,” Gross told reporters after taking the comical A-Rod at his word. “I thought it would be fun. It’s my five minutes of fame.” What paid professional makes up such nonsense? He thought it would be fun to come on Francesa’s show and lie for Rodriguez’ sake?!?!?!?!?! The interview lasted all of five minutes. Anyone who caught it knew it was sketchy. The more you look at Rodriguez, the more apparent it becomes that his only motivation is to have the Yankees activate him so he can get into one game. That’s all he’ll need to ensure that he gets his money.

“I heard via a text message this afternoon from Alex Rodriguez that he had retained a doctor to review his medical situation,” responded Yankee general manager Brian Cashman.  In media reports, we have since learned that the doctor in question has acknowledged that he did not examine Mr. Rodriguez and that he was not retained to do a comprehensive medical examination of Mr. Rodriguez. Contrary to the Basic Agreement, Mr. Rodriguez did not notify us at any time that he was seeking a second opinion from any doctor with regard to his quad strain.”

The Yanks are no fools. They know what’s going on. A PR campaign by a selfish player who will do anything to get his. They have to say the right things. Even if the Yankees look foolish playing this poker game, it’s the latest embarrassment for a fading star desperate to stay relevant. Following Ryan Braun’s suspension for the rest of 2013, he knows what’s coming. A rumored “lifetime ban” is just that. A rumor. If baseball really tried to ban him from the sport, it would reflect poorly. It goes against their rules. Wanting to rid themselves of Rodriguez is understandable. But what about the other 100 players that haven’t been named? Baseball fans deserve the truth. Not just a temporary band aid that serves more of a distraction. They have no one to blame but themselves.

For so long, MLB looked the other way letting players take performance enhancers during the Juiced Era. Following the strike shortened season of 1994, they turned the other cheek and watched sluggers beef up home run races drawing fans back to the ballpark. Chicks Dig The Long Ball was an infamous slogan used highlighting Mark McGwire’s chase of Roger Maris in 1998 when he broke the single season mark with 70 home runs beating out Sammy Sosa (66). The best aspect is seeing Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux train in an effort to hit homers. As sad as it is now, the commercial still brings a chuckle. Back then, it was easier to watch baseball and enjoy the game. Little did we know what was going on. The accidental day a reporter caught McGwire with Andro in his locker was the end of the innocence even though it took years to prove.

Today, it’s more of a pitcher’s sport. With the exception of Chris Davis’ first half onslaught and triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera, home runs have become harder to hit. Jose Bautista was the last player to reach 50 leading the majors with 54 in 2010. He also paced everyone in 2011 with 43 edging out Curtis Granderson (41). Ironically, Rodriguez’ last big year came in 2007 when he won his third MVP by putting together a monster season- pacing the majors in dingers (54) and RBI’s (156). He was 32 and on top of the sport.

It’s been mostly downhill since signing a 10-year $275 million contract. He managed three straight seasons of 30 or more homers and 100 RBI’s or better. There will always be that memorable October in 2009 when he crushed six homers and drove home 18 leading the Yankees to their 27th world title. Injuries kicked in limiting him to 99 games in 2011 and 122 in 2012 with hip surgery following a nightmarish ALCS in which he was pinch hit for by Raul Ibanez. Now, he’s trying to force his way back when the Yankees don’t want him. Rodriguez is signed through 2017. The math is simple. Squeeze every last penny out of the Yankees for the most foolish contract ever. They might have some company in the Angels with Albert Pujols. A superstar who’s never been caught but clearly in decline.

Long-term contracts like A-Rod’s are detrimental to the sport. Who knew it would be such a dramatic fall from grace? I guess we should’ve seen it following that self absorbed photo of him staring at himself in a full length mirror. For a player with such God given ability, it’s mystifying how dumb he is. This was supposed to be a player who loved the sport and cared what others thought of him. Instead of handling himself with class like Yankee teammate Derek Jeter, he’s fouled up a brilliant career costing him any realistic shot at Cooperstown. The career stats of .300 with 647 home runs and 1,950 RBI’s say otherwise. He should be a lock. But when we see what’s happened to Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and McGwire, it’s pretty obvious. There’s no coming back from this. The damage is irreparable.

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Once A-Fraud, Always One

Alex RodriguezAlex Rodriguez is that annoying bug that won’t go away. He’s that gnat you can’t kill in the heat. We’ve all fell victim to loathsome mosquitos that bite us and then fly away unscathed. Our own personal vampires suck the blood out of us. The circus that is A-Rod takes all the fun out of sports. His narcissistic persona and state of denial have no boundaries. Baseball is forever cursed due to cheaters who juiced during the Steroid Error Era. From Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds to Alex, there’s no escape. It’s like that classic Cars video, “You Might Think,” featuring lead singer Ric Ocasek and model Paulina Porizkova except much uglier.

That’s what Rodriguez has accomplished. A sad tale of a former three-time AL MVP who was chasing the tainted home run record of Bonds. Instead, injuries have deteriorated his body, which is partially due to performance enhancers. Due to Major League Baseball’s investigation into Biogenesis, the aging superstar is desperate to avoid a long-term suspension that could end his career. The MLB anti-drug policy is as follows. First-time offenders get 50 games. Second-time offenders 100 and three-time receive 150. A-Rod isn’t alone. Also facing the music is former NL MVP Ryan Braun, who looks more and more like a pathological liar. Even with testing, it doesn’t matter.

It didn’t have to be this way for A-Rod. He once was considered one of the greatest players of this generation. One can’t deny the statistics. His 647 home runs rank fifth on the all-time list trailing Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660). For purists like myself, I don’t view Bonds as the true home run king. That honor remains Homerin’ Hank with The Babe and Willie right behind. With sluggers such as Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro in question, it’s discouraging. Even one of my favorite hitters Manny Ramirez can’t be judged on his record. He’s attempting a comeback with Texas playing in Triple-A.

If Rodriguez really is trying to plea bargain down to a 150-game ban according to the Daily News, that speaks volumes.

“The bottom line is (MLB) wants these guys out of the game,” according to one baseball source. “In (A-Rod’s) case, 150 games would sufficiently accomplish that.”

While the investigation continues, Rodriguez is on a rehab assignment. Following his third game with Single-A Tampa in which he doubled and drove in two runs, the Yankees have given him the okay to move up to Double-A Trenton. Despite a futile offense that’s threatening to push them out of wildcard contention, the organization can’t be in a rush to bring the controversial third baseman back. He’s still recovering from hip surgery and the reviews have been mixed. No one knows what he has left. The longer they prolong his comeback, the better it is for the Yankees financially. If A-Rod is suspended while on the DL, the Yanks won’t have to pay him during the suspension. But if he does return, they would be on the hook for the remainder of his contract.

Though I’ve never been a Rodriguez supporter, it truly is sad. I don’t know how he can look at himself in the mirror everyday. Regardless of all the millions he’s banked, it’s an embarrassment. Amazing what a self absorbed perfectionist did to himself. He has no one to blame. He made a choice. A-Rod chose poorly and now must suffer the consequences.

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A-Rod heads list linked to PED’s

Baseball has a new scandal. According to the Miami New Times, several players are linked to performance enhancing drugs from biochemist Anthony Bosch. Topping the list is Yankee star Alex Rodriguez. He reportedly received HGH, troches (15 percent testosterone), testosterone cream and insulin-like growth factor in 2009. The same year A-Rod led the Yankees to their 27th world championship.

Included in the list was Rodriguez’ former teammate Melky Cabrera. Cabrera served a 50-game suspension for PED’s last year with the Giants. The Blue Jays signed him to a two-year contract in the offseason. If guilty, he could face a stiffer penalty under Major League Baseball’s anti-drug policy. MLB is investigating the story.

Other names listed are Nelson Cruz, Marlon Byrd, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal. Nats’ ace Gio Gonzalez is also mentioned in the allegation. Though his name is only mentioned five times compared to a much more detailed account of Rodriguez and Cabrera. Gonzalez’ Dad denied his son’s involvement.

“My son works very, very hard, and he’s as clean as apple pie,” Max Gonzalez stated. ”I went to Tony because I needed to lose weight. A friend recommended him, and he did great work for me. But that’s it. He never met my son. Never. And if I knew he was doing these things with steroids, do you think I’d be dumb enough to go there?”

It even cites the involvement of the University Of Miami baseball program with one coach named. That’s even worse. We’re talking about college athletics. And it’s the Hurricanes who already are on the NCAA radar for more violations with the football program. How naïve can you be?

Bosch is the son of Dr. Pedro Bosch, who supplied a fertility drug prescription to Manny Ramirez. Prior to that discovery, Ramirez had never been linked to performance enhancers- tarnishing a once certain Hall Of Famer. Now, it could seal Rodriguez’ fate. Naturally, he has emphatically denied the rumors.

What happens if it’s true? You know the Yankees would love to get out of A-Rod’s contract. But can they? In a recent interview with WFAN’s Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts, Yankees GM Brian Cashman hinted that Rodriguez could miss the entire 2013 season. The timing of this story couldn’t be any worse. Do you believe Alex? A  former employee from Bosch’s clinic kept records on the six players involved.

This comes in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. On Media Day when the focus should be on the Ravens and 49ers along with the Battle Of Harbaughs, instead it’s all about A-Rod. Remember when he opted out of his contract when Boston won the World Series? You can’t make it up.  It’s just part of the circus that is Alex Rodriguez.

Nothing surprises us anymore. Players cheat. It doesn’t matter if there are rules. Another ugly day for baseball.

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Surgery to sideline A-Rod: What’s Yanks next move?

Alex Rodriguez is in the news again. The Yankee third baseman needs arthroscopic surgery on his left hip to replace a torn labrum. The surgery won’t take place until January with A-Rod needing to take part in a pre-surgery strength conditioning program. Once he goes under the knife, Yankee GM Brian Cashman expects him to miss at least the first two months.

“The struggles we saw in September and in October are more likely than not related to this issue,” Cashman said of last postseason where Rodriguez was pinch hit for and benched. “Clearly, Alex was dealing with an issue. … He wasn’t firing on all cylinders.”

In 2012, Rodriguez hit .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBI’s over 122 games. At 37, injuries have limited him to 221 games the past two seasons. After reaching at least 30 homers and 100 RBI’s 13 straight years (’98-10), A-Rod’s production slipped to 34 homers and 119 RBI’s in ’11 and ’12. Once thought to be a threat for the all-time home run record legitimate or not, he remains 53 dingers shy of 700. For his career, he’s totaled 647 long balls and 1,950 RBI’s. Even though he can’t be considered a 30-homer 100-RBI guy anymore, having a healthy Rodriguez in the middle of the Yankee lineup can still provide a boost for Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira who all struggled during October.

The question is what does Rodriguez have left. How many games can the Bronx Bombers count on him for? You’d have to put the number at around 90. The past two seasons, the Yanks had a solid backup in vet Eric Chavez, who also had a miserable postseason in A-Rod’s place. The 35-year old Chavez is also a free agent. The Yankee organization can look to Eduardo Nunez to help fill the void at the hot corner. However, Nunez has never been an adequate fielder, booting balls at short and third which has to be a legitimate concern.

If Cashman goes the free agent root, the best available options are utility man Ty Wigginton and former Red Sock Kevin Youkilis.Both are versatile players capable of playing third, first and DH. However, Wiggington is cheaper and also can fill in at second or short if they need to give Cano or rehabbing captain Derek Jeter a day off. Obviously with the elder shortstop still hoping to be ready for Opening Day, the Yanks could split time between Nunez and more sure handed Jayson Nix, who also can play third.

Honestly, it isn’t a surprise anymore that Rodriguez continues to be plagued by injuries. His body is breaking down from steroids. I don’t really think it changes the Yankee strategy too much because the days of him playing 140 and being depended on to lead the team are over. The transition has been made to Cano, who has a lot to prove following his no show. Along with Granderson and Teixeira, they’ll be expected to combine for at least 100 homers and around 300 RBI’s. As long as all three are healthy and don’t suffer any mental setbacks, there’s no reason they can’t produce. Much depends on when Jeter returns and how Brett Gardner bounces back.

The Yanks are still looking to replace Nick Swisher and Russell Martin even if Cashman says they could go into Spring Training with Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine. With the Red Sox landing power hitting backstop Mike Napoli for three years, $39 million, it’s not out of the question that the Yankee GM could go after AJ Pierzynski. The vet who gets underneath opponents’ skin has the perfect temperament for the Bronx and would be an upgrade over Martin. In 2012 with the White Sox, he hit .278 with 27 homers and 77 RBI’s. Pierzynski turns 36 later this month.

If the Yanks are intent on staying at or beneath the targeted $189 million, then perhaps they’ll focus on adding a utility guy and right fielder. Another good option available is NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro, who gets better with age. The former Red Sock, Jay and Athletic always killed Yankee pitching and has a great approach at the plate they desperately need. He doesn’t strikeout much and is a contact hitter. With the Giants re-signing Angel Pagan (4 years, $40 million), figure Brian Sabean to turn his attention to bringing back Scutaro.

Don’t forget big fish Josh Hamilton is also out there. But the Yanks aren’t expected to sign him. The Orioles could be a destination for the big hitting outfielder. They’re looking for another big bat. Especially after cutting ties with Mark Reynolds. Might the boom or bust style of Reynolds be to the Yanks’ liking? They might want to pass. Either way, the Winter Meetings in Nashville are heating up.

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Yankees get big win

With pressure on, second-year starter Ivan Nova delivered for the Yankees.

At least for one day, Yankee fans can stay calm. Today, the Bronx Bombers bounced back with a 5-3 win to take the middle game of a crucial three-game series against the Rays. The win puts the Yanks a half game up on the Orioles, who also try to respond from a rare one-run defeat at wild card leading Oakland later.

The Bombers used a three-run second highlighted by back-to-back homers from Curtis Granderson (No.39) and former Staten Island Yankee Eduardo Nunez to get the better of James Shields. Grandy, who interestingly enough hit seventh made embattled skipper Joe Girardi look smart when he jacked a two-run dinger plating Raul Ibanez. It was his second straight game with a homer and fifth over the last six. Less than 24 hours after his error allowed Tampa to add an insurance run Friday, Nunez followed up with his first of the season. No matter how much he struggles in the field, the kid can hit and should remain in the lineup down the stretch. Especially against lefties.

Derek Jeter continued his amazing season with another clutch two out RBI single that scored lead off man Ichiro for a four-run lead after five. The Captain needs two hits for 200 for the year after surpassing baseball legend Willie Mays on the all-time hit list. There aren’t enough adjectives for the 38-year old shortstop who continues to add to a legacy when most athletes are on the flip side. It’s been a remarkable 2012 for No.2, who continues to carry the Yankees despite playing hurt. The man’s got heart.

Predictably, Tampa made things interesting when Evan Longoria went deep in the sixth and Luke Scott’s run-scoring base hit plated two suddenly cutting it to 4-3. But Joba Chamberlain fanned Desmond Jennings to end the seventh. A clutch hit by Alex Rodriguez scored Robinson Cano to pad the lead to 5-3 after David Robertson tossed a perfect 1-2-3 eighth. Rafael Soriano made everyone sweat but stranded the tying runs by striking out Elliot Johnson for his 39th save. He’s now 39 for 42 since taking over for Mariano Rivera. Big time.

The bigger story was Ivan Nova, who was terrific in six-plus allowing two earned while striking out eight for his 12th win. It had been almost a month since he pitched. In a big spot following the latest C.C. Sabathia disappointment, Nova Scotia out pitched a guy referred to as Big Game James. He only gave up four hits and hadn’t been touched until Longoria took him yard in the sixth. Nova tossed 85 pitches with 53 for strikes. A very encouraging sign for the Yanks, who also get Andy Pettite back Tuesday against the Blue Jays.

Tomorrow features another good match-up with Hideki Kuroda taking the ball against Tampa flame thrower Matt Moore. Kuroda has been the Yanks’ best and needs to come up with a gem against rookie Moore, whose 165 K’s over 166-plus would make him a Rookie Of The Year frontrunner if not for Mike Trout. First pitch is 1:05 at the Golden Palace.

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Hard Hits Returns

A few years ago, Hard Hits debuted over on Blog Talk Radio. Hosted by yours truly, it’s a sports oriented show that covers the hot topics. Ranging from baseball, basketball, football, hockey, tennis to even random stuff that’s happening in the world, we try to give everything fair game.

We have our usual cast of characters who take part in the festivities. The Progam’s own Chris Wassel, No Goal Sports host Brian Sanborn, show engineer Justin Felix, Kraze Mart’s Robert Davis, the self-proclaimed Stat Master John “JPG” Giagnorio, Dan “The Man” Wheeler and Mrs. SHARXGIRL Jenn Johnson. Everyone brings their unique perspective to the air. At times, it’s chaotic. But the frantic banter is what makes our show different. You never know what’s going to be said. So tune in weekly!

The next show airs next week at midnight (12 ET/9 PT) on Friday July 20. Or for our catered West coast audience, July 19. In Episode Two, the continued Penn State scandal was covered along with Dwight Howard, Alex Rodriguez, Rick Nash, the All-Star Game, Melky Cabrera and Zach Parise. To listen to the full 45 minute show, click on the link below:

Hard Hits 2

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A-Rod Hits No.600

In yesterdays Yankee win over the Blue Jays, Alex Rodriguez finally made history by becoming the youngest player ever to reach 600 home runs.

In yesterday's Yankee win over the Blue Jays, Alex Rodriguez finally made history by becoming the youngest player ever to reach 600 home runs.

Yesterday, Alex Rodriguez finally snapped out of it to hit his 600th career home run in the Yankees’ 5-1 win over the Blue Jays- salvaging the final game of a three-game series.

In doing so, the future Hall Of Famer (yes, he still is in our book) became just the seventh ballplayer to reach 600 and the youngest ever beating out who else but The Babe. A-Rod recently turned 35 reaches a special milestone at 35 years, eight days with Babe Ruth next youngest at 36 years, 196 days in 1931. However, as was noted in the Yahoo recap, Ruth accomplished it in fewer games (183) due to being a pitcher first with Boston before becoming a full-time slugger. Pretty amazing stuff.

In finally reaching 600 homers, Rodriguez joins tainted record holder Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), recently retired former Mariner teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. (630) and no habla engles Sammy Sosa (609). Pretty exclusive company even if the chase was marred by his steroids admission last year. Sadly, nearly half the list cheated with Bonds and Sosa front and center. It’s still odd that A-Rod also did it because we always thought he stood for integrity. Especially being a baseball guru who prides himself on being the best. Guess it just goes to show that even the most gifted athletes can slip up. Simple message. Trust no one.

It’s a shame that such a remarkable feat which saw the Yankee third baseman hit one off Shaun Marcum into Monument Park is basically acknowledged with a shrug. Something like this should be more celebrated but unfortunately, it was anti-climatic due to circumstance. Baseball is a great sport filled with legions of diehard fans who take pride in the history books. The home run has always been the greatest thrill. Now, it’s forever tainted making the legends before them turn in their graves.

How many of Rodriguez’ 600 blasts were performance enhanced? If you buy the story he gave last year about it just being with Texas, then that’s still a good chunk. He totaled 156 in only three seasons, averaging a gaudy 52-per-year. In already his seventh year in the Bronx including Wednesday’s 17th dinger of 2010, A-Rod is at 255 long balls (36.4) with over seven weeks left. Yes. It’s true that his production has curtailed since a monster ’07 that saw him hit 54 homers and drive in a career high 156 en route to an MVP.

 

A-ROD IN DECLINE???

Year      GP          HR

’07          158        56

’08           138        35

’09            124        30

*’10            101         17

*Current season

 

Part of this is due to the chronic hip he had surgery on last year, costing him over a month. Perhaps it’s also a sign that age is finally catching up. During his prime years, Rodriguez was deadly- rarely missing pitches. Even if he’s slowing down, the New York native answered critics last year by still reaching 30 homers and 100 RBI’s while having a memorable postseason filled with clutch home runs- leading the Bronx Bombers to their record 27th championship and first in the A-Rod Era.

What else is there for Rodriguez to accomplish? Well, the questions already started about whether he can catch Bonds, who’s still 162 clear of him. It all depends on health. If he stays healthy and can recapture the stroke that once made him a gimme for 40, then he should be a lock. However, homers are down since Major League Baseball (MLB) cracked down on performance enhancers. When Jose Bautista’s leading the majors with 33 homers, it tells you plenty. It’s become a pitcher’s game again.

A-Rod will still have the advantage of being in the middle of the most potent lineup with Mark Teixeira and Robby Cano providing plenty of support along with Jorge Posada and All-Star Nick Swisher. Will finally ending the 0-for-17 drought and longest between home run 599 and 600 among the Elite Seven get Rodriguez going? You have to think it’ll relax him with a hot streak just around the corner. Amazing that he still has knocked in 87 despite less dingers. No doubt, he’s making his RBI’s count as he paces the Yanks ahead of Teixeira (81) and MVP candidate Cano (71).

If anything, he should be a lock for 27 taking him to 610. Ten more isn’t a lot to ask for one of the greatest superstars the game’s ever seen. Then, it becomes a matter of math. Can he average 30 HR the next four years before he turns 40 in 2015?  If Alexander The Great can get back to that level, that would be at least 120 pushing him to 730- making the record attainable.

It should be interesting to follow the plight of A-Rod and whether he can become the new Home Run King. Even if it won’t be fully embraced despite his unique talent.

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