ANAHEIM, Calif. | Only a handful of players have ever been so feared by opposing pitchers and managers that they lost the right to swing a bat in any situation of consequence.
Barry Bonds, at his peak, was never pitched to. Albert Pujols now often finds himself hamstrung in a similar fashion.
Perhaps it’s time for Alex Rodriguez to start getting the same treatment. Those who have elected to pitch to the New York Yankees slugger this month certainly aren’t being rewarded for their bravado.
Seven games into this postseason, Rodriguez is putting up Bonds-like numbers. He’s batting .407 and has slammed five homers, driven in 11 runs and posted an otherworldly OPS of 1.469.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy go through a stretch like this, especially in the postseason,” teammate Mark Teixeira said Wednesday. “It’s unbelievable, especially when you know that the other team is trying to get him out. They’re doing everything they can to get him out.”
That may be the problem. The Los Angeles Angels, like the Minnesota Twins before them, have consistently gone after Rodriguez in the American League Championship Series, trying to retire him the conventional way… only to fail miserably.
Rodriguez has drawn only four walks this postseason and has been intentionally passed just once - with two outs and nobody on in the ninth inning of Monday’s Game 3. Otherwise, pitchers have tried to stick with their game plan of pitching down in the zone and taking their best shot.
“You have to,” said reliever Jason Bulger, who served up a two-run homer to Rodriguez in Tuesday’s Game 4. “I mean, we’re not going to intentionally walk him every single time. We still have to attack the zone and have faith our pitchers are going to get him out.”
Why not just intentionally walk Rodriguez, as everyone did with Bonds at the pinnacle of his career? That strategy might not have shut down baseball’s all-time home run champion completely, but it did help keep him from winning the World Series.
During his best postseason run in 2002 with San Francisco, Bonds posted an on-base percentage of .597 and a slugging percentage of .978, producing an OPS of 1.575. A-Rod’s numbers this postseason are eerily similar: a .469 on-base percentage and a 1.000 slugging percentage for a 1.469 OPS.
Yet Bonds was walked a staggering 27 times in 17 games, including 13 intentional passes. Opponents, including an Anaheim Angels squad managed by Mike Scioscia, didn’t give him a chance to hit in any situation of consequence.
Scioscia, still the Angels’ manager, hasn’t felt the need to call for that strategy with Rodriguez and doesn’t feel New York’s star third baseman is his biggest concern.
“Obviously we have to find a better way to contain him and to counter it,” he said. “I don’t know if Alex is as much of a difference-maker as what we saw [Tuesday night from Yankees left-hander CC] Sabathia. I think we definitely need to do more in our batter’s box, and that’s really going to rely on our ability to have good approaches against their pitchers as opposed to just trying to contain Alex.”
Rodriguez has always been the center of attention in October, though in the past that was a result of his massive struggles under the sport’s brightest lights. Held to one RBI in his previous three series entering this October, he seemed to have established his reputation as the game’s biggest choker.
But Rodriguez has completely altered his postseason image in the past two weeks with a string of home runs at critical junctures - even if he’s not ready to admit it.