Alex Rodriguez Has Helped New York Yankees Climb Back into Wild-Card Race

Matt Barbato@@Matt_BarbatoCorrespondent IAugust 19, 2013

You can say what you want about Alex Rodriguez: He's a cheater, a liar, a thief in some respects. I've even heard the word "bum" used to describe his overall nature. If not for New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, Rodriguez would unanimously win the award for Most Hated Athlete in New York City.

But let's throw aside his PED use, grievance against his team and recent stories about his camp throwing other cheaters under the justice bus and take a look at what Rodriguez has done since joining the New York Yankees two weeks ago.

A-Rod's return to the Yankees began in Chicago, where a media circus swarmed the otherwise barren U.S. Cellular Field on the Southside of the Midwest metropolis. Rodriguez was heavily booed in all three games, and his sudden presence proved to be a distraction to his teammates. New York was swept by the lowly White Sox, who had lost their previous 10 games entering the series.

Rodriguez went 3-for-11 with two walks and three strikeouts during the series and was mainly an obstacle for the Yankees.

After going 0-for-4 with three more strikeouts in his first game back in the Bronx, manager Joe Girardi gave his third baseman the day off while his team lost 9-3 to the Detroit Tigers in the second game of the series.

Since that day off, Rodriguez has gone on a pretty nice run. He's gone 12-for-32 since August 11th, with two home runs, six RBI and five walks. His batting average rose from .263 to .319 (good for third on the team), and his on-base percentage from .364 to .407. Rodriguez has gotten a hit in seven of his last eight games, with four multi-hit games during that span.

Rodriguez's production has sparked the Yankees, who are 6-2 during his hot streak. New York may have gained only one game in the wild-card race since August 11th, but the team is playing much better baseball and seems to have a chip on its shoulder.

That chip was evident last night in the rubber-match against the Boston Red Sox on Sunday night. Rodriguez stepped up to the plate in the first inning to face Ryan Dempster, who clearly had something to settle with the slugger.

Dempster set the tone by throwing behind Rodriguez on the first pitch, nearly hitting him. Most thought that would be the end of itDempster's message was sent, even if he missed his beaning attempt. 

Dempster had other ideas.

After jamming Rodriguez with two inside fastballs, Dempster intentionally plunked Rodriguez in the back on the 3-0 pitch, prompting home-plate umpire Brian O'Nora to warn both clubs, which prompted Girardi to storm out of the dugout and chew out O'Nora for not tossing Dempster out of the contest.

After a several-minute tirade that included bench clearings, Girardi was ejected by O'Nora after nearly landing a left hook to O'Nora's chin. Despite how horribly the umpire handled the situationin my opinion, Dempster should have been warned after the first pitch and immediately ejected after the fourthGirardi's outburst was a rallying cry for his Bronx Bombers, who were more than fired up after the incident.

Not only did CC Sabathia take the classy route by not retaliating, Rodriguez got the last laugh of the evening when he went deep off of Dempster on the second pitch of his sixth-inning at-bat to cut Boston's lead to 6-4. Five more runs ensued, and the Yankees quieted the hostile crowd with a 9-6, series-clinching victory.

"Joe's reaction was amazing," Rodriguez said to the media after the game. "Every single one of my teammates came up to me and said, 'Hit a bomb and walk it off.'"

His reaction was amazing, but it wasn't just to support his player. Girardi picked the perfect spot for a rampage that Happy Gilmore, Lou Pinella and Phil Wellman would have been proud of.

For the first time, the Yankees showed their support of Rodriguez. This not only proved that the team (excluding the front office) had his back, but it may have won over a few fans along the way.

I'm sure I wasn't the only guy standing and clapping when Rodriguez got redemption on Dempster in the sixth inning. I still don't like him, but I must admit I was proud of him in that moment.

This validation from his club may be the confidence boost A-Rod needs. His recent play has already been outstanding, considering the players New York has thrown in the hot corner earlier in the year.

The Yankees are still six games back of Oakland for the second wild-card spot, but a couple of weeks ago, the team looked dead and certainly didn't resemble anything close to a playoff team. It still may not be a playoff team, but last night's performance gives me a big reason for not counting them out.

Nobody knows how this drama will end, but if New York makes a dramatic run into the playoffs, people will look back at August 18th as what could be Alex Rodriguez's last shining moment of his seemingly eventual downfall. This time, he will graciously take all of the blame.