New York The spotlight has a way of finding Alex Rodriguez the way water will find a pinhole in a leaky radiator, or a hot grounder will find the leaky glove in an infield.
And now, despite his best efforts to fade away into the safety of the Yankees’ lineup and to become an Invisible Man among a cast of luminaries, it shines upon him again. No matter how hard he tries to fit in, he can’t help standing out.
There’s no hiding from it and no getting around it. Sooner or later, and usually sooner, Alex Rodriguez becomes the focus of attention. And as always, there’s no middle ground with the guy. It’s either spectacular success or epic failure. He’s either a priceless treasure or a colossal waste of money, a hero or a bum.
There’s no such thing as a so-so A-Rod postseason, and whatever fate awaits the Yankees in the next 24 days, it will be inextricably tied to the performance of their $275-million third baseman.
As the Yankees advance to the ALCS for the first time in five years, the last hurdle before the World Series, they do so once again on the back of their most talented, highest-paid and highest-profile player.
If the Yankees are going to clear that hurdle and beat the Angels to return to the Series, they are going to have to rely on Alex Rodriguez to do it.
As we all know, this is not always A-Rod’s favorite position, or at least not the one in which he thrives. There’s no need to go through his October numbers once again except to say that he did more in the three games of the Division Series against the Twins than he had done in his four previous Yankees postseasons, at least after Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS.
“Without Alex,” Joe Girardi said after Sunday’s 4-1 win that nailed down the sweep, “we are not in this situation right now.”
And, A-Rod being A-Rod, the more he does, the more we expect him to do.
Coming into this postseason, it was supposed to be a more relaxed Alex Rodriguez, relieved of the burden of carrying a $208-million ballclub thanks to the presence of Mark Teixeira one spot ahead of him on the lineup card.
Alas, that theory already has gone out the window. Teixeira, who had an MVP-quality regular season, had a big ALDS Game 2 — he won it with an 11th-inning home run two innings after contributing a key single — but hasn’t done much else. In fact, besides A-Rod, no Yankee other than Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, has hit at all.
The Yankees haven’t had such an outsized presence on their roster since Babe Ruth. Like Ruth, every move he makes, on the field and off, is scrutinized and every at-bat analyzed.
And the same way he is dogged every October by the numbers he puts up in the regular season, A-Rod is destined to be dogged this October by the numbers he has historically put up in Anaheim.
Simply put, he crushes the ball at Angel Stadium. In six games there this year, he hit .364 (8-for-22) with five homers and nine RBIs. In his career, he has hit more home runs there — 37 — than at any other visiting park. His slugging percentage in Anaheim is a ridiculous .716.
Those are tough numbers to live up to. Now, he will not just be asked to, but expected to. If he does, the Yankees win. If he doesn’t, they lose.
Either way, he won’t have to look for the spotlight.
As always, it will find him. And this year, he might even be ready for it.