- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

ARLINGTON, Texas Alex Rodriguez just might make AL MVP voters forget he's on a team headed for its third straight last-place finish.

Despite all that has gone wrong around him, Rodriguez is at the top of his game, becoming just the sixth player in major league history with five straight 40-homer seasons.

"I'm taking extreme pride in finishing the season with a lot of energy and a lot of pride," he said.

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Rodriguez hit three home runs in the Texas Rangers' 9-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday, a night after his ninth-inning shot capped his 4-for-4 effort in a 6-5 win over Toronto.

"I don't know if it's greater to kick it in when you're in a playoff stretch or kick it in when your team is in last place at this point in the season," Texas manager Jerry Narron said. "He's the best player in the game."

Rodriguez's first-inning homer Saturday was his 40th of the season. He added Nos. 41 and 42 later in the game to move within one of the major league lead held by the Cubs' Sammy Sosa, who hit his 43rd Saturday.

Babe Ruth holds the major league record of seven straight 40-homer seasons from 1926 to 1932. This is Sosa's fifth straight 40-homer season, and the feat also has been accomplished by Ralph Kiner, Duke Snider and Ken Griffey Jr.

Rodriguez's 107 RBI through Saturday led the majors. It's his fifth straight season with at least 100.

"We're playing baseball and he's playing video games, up there pushing buttons and doing whatever he wants," Rangers second baseman Michael Young said.

Going into last night's game against Toronto, Rodriguez had hits in eight of his last nine at-bats and a 10-game hitting streak. His average had gone from .311 to .323, fourth in the AL. Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki leads the league at .344.

Rodriguez led all AL shortstops with a .991 fielding average, making just five errors in his first 559 chances. He had gone 43 straight games without an error.

The pitching-poor Rangers, though, entered yesterday at 53-68, a whopping 20 games behind the first-place Mariners in the four-team AL West. In fact, Texas is 18 games behind third-place Oakland.

No player from a last-place team has won an MVP award since Andre Dawson of the Cubs in 1987, when he led the NL in homers and RBI.

Rodriguez was sixth in the MVP voting last season, when he led the AL with 52 homers while hitting .318 with 135 RBI for another last-place Rangers team. He finished second to Juan Gonzalez in 1996, while with Seattle in his first full season, and third in 2000, his last year with the Mariners.

Rodriguez admits he would like to win at least one MVP award before his career is over, but he insists it's not something he dwells on. After all, he is just 27 and already a six-time All-Star.

Rodriguez refuses to be distracted, not by his team's poor play or the Aug. 30 strike date set by the players union.

As baseball's highest-paid player he's in the second year of the 10-year, $252 million deal he signed in December 2000 after leaving Seattle as a free agent Rodriguez would lose more than $3.5 million if the rest of the season is wiped out.

He wholeheartedly backs the union but isn't going to let the possibility of a shortened season affect him while he can still play.

"I've had to deal with distractions my whole career. The labor issue is a major issue," Rodriguez said. "But my time between the lines is kind of my sanctuary. Once I get between the lines, it's game on."

He hasn't sat out a game since July 23, 2000, a streak of 345 straight including all 282 in Texas.

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