Has Ryan Dempster Awoken Sleeping Giants in Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees?
Circle your calendars: Sunday, August 18.
That's the date everyone will cite as the turning point of the New York Yankees' season if they get hot and make a playoff run.
The operative word in the previous sentence, of course, is still "if."
No matter how ideal the setup and scenario looks from the Yankees' point of view—a dramatic, come-from-behind victory against the archrival Boston Red Sox on the road at Fenway Park on Sunday Night Baseball—postseason pushes aren't often driven by emotion. That's even true for one as strong as that sparked by Alex Rodriguez crushing a long solo home run off Ryan Dempster in the sixth inning after the right-hander pegged Rodriguez with a 92-mph fastball in the top of the second.
What happened Sunday night in Boston was controversial, inflammatory and more than a little silly, especially since Dempster hurt his club in the standings—the Tampa Bay Rays are now only a game back in the American League East—more than he hurt the embattled Rodriguez.
But it will not, in all likelihood, trigger New York's return to October.
With the win, the Yankees stand at 64-59. That's a respectable record, particularly given all the injuries that have befallen the many aging, high-priced players on the team, but it also puts them in the exact same win-loss boat as the Kansas City Royals.
Aside from K.C., New York would need to leapfrog the Baltimore Orioles and the Cleveland Indians to get closer to the second wild-card spot in the AL, a position currently owned by the Oakland Athletics, who are six games up on the Yanks.
So it's a nice story that Rodriguez was able to overcome the hit-by-pitch—and the chorus of boos and jeers that followed—by hitting his second home run and having his best game of the season. However, the narrative likely won't have a fairytale ending in the Bronx.
Since Rodriguez's return from hip surgery and a strained quad on Aug. 5, the Yankees are 7-6 overall (7-5 with A-Rod in the lineup), so it's not as if they've been playing any better with their star third baseman back. And Rodriguez has been better than just about anyone could've expected, too, going 15-for-47 (.319) with a .407 on-base percentage.
In fact, with Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson (15-for-52, 2 HR since his Aug. 2 return) and the red-hot Alfonso Soriano (18-for-41, 7 HR, 22 RBI in the 10 games prior to Sunday's 0-for-6), the lineup actually looks fairly formidable once again.
Perhaps for the first time all season, though, the Yankees' problem isn't the hitting; it's the pitching.
CC Sabathia, who has been anything but the club's ace this season (4.83 ERA, 1.35 WHIP), was ineffective at best again Sunday, allowing 12 baserunners and six runs over 5.1 frames against the Red Sox. That's been the Sabathia story lately: Over his past seven starts, Sabathia owns an ERA that, at 7.75, looks more like the price of a Manhattan deli sandwich.
About the only saving grace for the left-hander on Sunday night was that he got the win, thanks to the bats.
Even though Ivan Nova has been much better lately and Andy Pettitte pitched well in Friday's win to help the Yankees take two of three from the division leaders over the weekend, New York's rotation is still one exclamation point—Hiroki Kuroda leads the AL with a 2.41 ERA—followed by four question marks.
That's going to make a potential playoff run like attempting a mid-August marathon complete with hurdles.
Especially when 30 of the Yankees' final 39 games come against division foes, with more than half of those coming on the road.
Sure, for one series and one night, Rodriguez and the Yankees got what he called "the ultimate payback," per Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. And the club was able to back him up by coming through in the clutch, as Brett Gardner did with the game-winning, three-run triple five batters after Rodriguez's home run.
"How could it not get you fired up?" Gardner said, via Hoch. "We know that we're at a point in the season where we've got to play every game like it's our last, and we were able to win the series."
So yes, Sunday, Aug. 18 was a big night for the Yankees, but Gardner's right—the Yankees are in a spot in the standings and at a point in the season when the game that matters most is the one that's next.
Speaking of which, the Yankees have 13 in a row upcoming against the AL East, starting with a doubleheader on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
From here on out, every game is a circle-the-calendar contest.
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