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A-Rod's HR sent a clear message to the East


A-Rod's HR sent a clear message to the East
BALTIMORE - The Yankees waited two months for the curtain to rise, slogging through a forgettable April and an even uglier May. With a 5 1/2 game deficit in the East the empire was in disarray, the fans were largely rejecting the billion-dollar ballpark and the losses were starting to blur into each other.

Finally, Alex Rodriguez arrived, bringing with him the medicine the Yankees have needed all along — that perfect home run swing, unmatched in the universe.

It took just one sequence for the Yankees to officially welcome A-Rod back into the family: one at-bat, one pitch, a single flick of the wrists that tells you everything about the Yankees' vision for the rest of the summer.

A-Rod crashed a massive, three-run HR off Jeremy Guthrie in the first inning, and just that easily, paved the way to the Yankees' cleanest victory of 2009 — a 4-0 win over the Orioles that was underwritten by CC Sabathia's complete-game, four-hit shutout.

Is the calculus really that uncomplicated? Crazy but true: A-Rod turned the Yankees into a different entity just by walking into the clubhouse. It says plenty about his Q-rating, which has never been higher since he joined the Yankees in 2004, but whether he's great or damned, a superstar or historic fraud — your choice — there's no one like this troubled star.

"To me, he's just the best player in the game, so what he did tonight didn't surprise me," Sabathia said.

Actually, A-Rod's return starts a new era in two respects. He talked about reclaiming his good name in the final nine years of his contract, vowing to erase the mistakes of the past.

The transgressions, of course, go off into infinity: steroids, adultery and, if your believe the allegations in Selena Roberts' new book, HGH-use since 2004, as well as pitch tipping to opposing players during his years with the Rangers.

To this, Rodriguez offers nothing more than a neutral apology; he's neither defiant nor needy. As he says, "All I can do at this point is help this team win."

That's where the second part of A-Rod's reclamation project takes effect. It's not just his reputation that's suffered, it's his hip that collapsed as well. The surgery to repair a torn labrum solved the mystery of his disappearing bat speed late last summer, when, as he put it, "anything over 92 (mph) I couldn't get around on."

Rodriguez revved up his offseason workouts in hopes of finding his bat speed, but that resulted in failure, too. "I didn't know what was going on," he said, heading into spring training in a state of panic. By the time March arrived, Rodriguez flatly said, "I was awful" at the plate.

The surgery in March radically changed the dynamic of his swing: finally, Rodriguez is able to clear his hips on even elite-caliber fastballs. Guthrie is one the league's harder throwers and blistered a 94-mph fastball to Rodriguez in the first inning. But the Yankees slugger was ready.

"I made up my mind I was going to come out attacking the ball and being assertive in the strike zone," A-Rod said. That meant not waiting, not even for one extra pitch. Rodriguez didn't just connect with Guthrie's four-seamer: he used it to deliver a message to the Blue Jays and Red Sox.

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We're coming, is what the Yankees seemed to be saying on Friday. "We have a really good team here," said Sabathia, a notion that was seconded by A.J. Burnett who said that once the Bombers are finally in sync, their success ratio will be "ridiculous."

Do we trust them? The Yankees have spent eight years outside the walls of the promised land, spending like crazy every winter to gain entry. Sabathia, Burnett and Mark Teixeira were supposed to be the perfect storm of free agency, but until Friday night, the Yankees were turning into the (very) worst team money could buy.

Consider: the pitching staff was next to last in the American League in runs allowed, and rock bottom in walks. The bullpen, staggered by news that Mariano Rivera is having velocity problems because of an apparent tired shoulder, has a 6.26 ERA. The starters — blueprinted as the Yankees' primary weapon — came into the game with a 5.61 ERA.

This isn't just a slump, it's a catastrophe to a team spending $200 million. And that represented the greatest threat to Girardi's job security. Even though the manager still has the backing of GM Brian Cashman, the Bombers' nondescript play was having economic ramifications, let alone damaging them in the standings.

If the Yankees are having trouble pulling fans into the new Stadium when it's still a novelty, how empty will the place be if they're still under .500 in July and August?

No wonder Girardi said the Yankees said just played a "huge" game at Camden Yards. Rodriguez was back and, apparently, so is Sabathia. The manager smiled and said, "it feels great to have our two big guys come through like that."

Sabathia might just be ready for hot streak. Teixeira is hoping to prosper, too, with A-Rod behind him in the batting order. There are still issues to resolve — the health of Rivera's shoulder, and the length of Jorge Posada's stay on the disabled list but for one night, the Yankees were ready to believe their run of mediocrity might finally be coming to an end.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 9, 2009

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