- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

BALTIMORE You can point out the fact that he plays for a crummy team, that his mammoth contract makes him the poster child for all that is wrong with baseball and that he does not deserve to be called an MVP.

But you cannot deny the fact that Alex Rodriguez is the best baseball player in the world right now, hands down, no matter whose uniform he wears.

"If he's not, he's awful close," Baltimore Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "A-Rod would be a star at whatever position he played."

And with every dazzling show he puts on such as blasting his 49th and 50th home runs of the season last night in the Texas Rangers' 11-2 thrashing of the Orioles the game's best shortstop continues to make a case for his first MVP award.

Whether the 28 American League representatives of the Baseball Writers Association of America defy conventional wisdom and award the MVP to a player from a last-place team remains to be seen. Many have long viewed the MVP as an honor only for the best players on contending teams, but Rodriguez's phenomenal 2002 season certainly will cause some voters to go against the grain.

"It's not his fault that his team's not doing better," Orioles reliever Chris Brock said. "He's doing the job."

How good has the Rangers' shortstop been? Let us count the ways:

With home runs in his first two at-bats last night against Baltimore starter Jason Johnson, Rodriguez added to his major-league leading totals of 50 homers and 124 RBI. The last player to lead the majors in both categories was Cecil Fielder in 1991.

He was recently named the AL Player of the Month for both July and August, becoming the first player in seven years to accomplish the feat.

And thanks to last night's performance, he became only the fifth player in history to have back-to-back 50-homer seasons, third in the AL along with Babe Ruth and Ken Griffey Jr.

"It's obviously very special," Rodriguez said. "I work very hard, and I understand the history of this game. It's just nice to be on the list with [those players]."

On their own, those facts would seem to make Rodriguez a shoo-in for his first MVP award. Of course, when you play for a last-place team with a 63-76 record, the numbers don't carry as much weight.

The Orioles certainly aren't doubting A-Rod's value to the Rangers, not after he led their offensive onslaught last night before an announced crowd of 29,964 at Camden Yards that seemed more concerned with the opposing superstar's dazzling performance than the home team's collective yawner.

When Rodriguez belted a 95-mph fastball from Johnson (4-12) in the first inning for a two-run homer, the crowd ooh'ed and aah'ed. When he took Johnson's 94-mph fastball deep to left in the third, they applauded.

And when Brock threw Rodriguez four straight balls in his fourth-inning at-bat, many of them booed. Not the kind of reaction you'd normally expect from a home crowd.

"There's not a lot of room for error," Brock said. "Once I went 2-0, the last thing I was going to do was let him hit it out. I figured I'd move on and try for the next guy."

Rodriguez wasn't that far away from hitting homers No. 3 and No. 4, but he twice flied out to deep center field to end his night.

"I thought I had a chance on the first one," he said. "But it was a little thick out there today, a little heavy air. I thought I had three tonight. I'll take two."

The Rangers collectively hit five home runs last night, though they did have the advantage of facing a pitcher who was not 100 percent healthy. Johnson, who dropped his third straight decision, was sick to his stomach and lasted just 2⅔ innings.

Brock was healthy but fared no better; the long reliever was tagged for four runs and six hits in 1⅔ innings of relief, including a three-run homer by Todd Hollandsworth on his final pitch of the night.

Hargrove called upon Yorkis Perez to put out the fire, but the veteran left-hander was promptly greeted by Michael Young with a first-pitch homer to left, capping a long and frustrating evening for the Orioles.

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