Alex Rodriguez began his final regular-season game of 2009 with 28 homers and 93 RBI, very respectable numbers for a 34-year-old guy who had missed a month of action following hip surgery.
But for Rodriguez, there was undoubtedly disappointment.
He had fallen short of the 30-homer, 100-RBI plateau for the first time since 1997. Behind all those stale, controversy-avoiding, positively Jeterian quotes he had given all season about just wanting to fit in, we knew the truth.
Alex Rodriguez still desperately wants to be regarded as The Man. El Hombre. His ego won't have it any other way.
What he went on to do that Sunday afternoon in St. Petersburg was nothing short of remarkable. He hit two homers and drove in seven runs (in one inning, no less) to finish the season with 30 homers and 100 RBI on the nose.
There's little doubt Rodriguez took immense satisfaction in that achievement. It was a reminder of the El Hombre skill-set he still possesses, on display for all the people who now believe Mark Teixeira is the best player on the Yankees.
There's a lot of buzz of late that this will finally be the year that Rodriguez shakes his postseason doldrums. He hasn't had a meaningful October RBI in five years, but many believe that's about to change, maybe as soon as tonight against the Twins.
Rodriguez has said himself that this is the best offense he's ever been a part of, and the working theory is that he'll thrive when the pressure to produce isn't squarely on him.
This is ridiculous, of course.
In each of the four seasons Rodriguez failed in the postseason with the Yankees, he was in a lineup that any cleanup hitter would kill to be part of. There were All-Star players hitting around him in '04, '05, '06, and '07, and he still fell woefully short.
The depth is greater this season, but that doesn't change the pressure on the No. 4 hitter. If you're looking for a good sign, that responsibility doesn't seem to elude Rodriguez. Here's what he told The Journal News this week.
"We have a unique lineup this year. We have a very deep lineup. I'm biased, but I think it's one of the best in baseball, if not the best," Rodriguez said. "With that said, I also know I'm hitting cleanup for a reason. I know it's going to be important for me to come up with some big hits when my number is called. I'm looking forward to the opportunity, like I have all year."
He's saying all the right things, which, let's face it, hasn't always been easy for him. But saying the right things and doing the right things are completely different.
Will it be The Bum or The Man batting cleanup in the Bronx? We'll find out starting tonight.
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