Posted August 10, 2013

Even Alex Rodriguez’s sideshow can’t steal the spotlight from Miguel Cabrera

Alex Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers, Mariano Rivera, Miguel Cabrera, New York Yankees
Miguel Cabrera shook off knee pain to crush a game-tying home run off of Mariano Rivera.

Miguel Cabrera shook off knee pain to crush a game-tying home run off of Mariano Rivera. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez returned to the Bronx on Friday night, his first home game since undergoing hip surgery this offseason and since receiving the 211-game suspension that he’s appealing. His first at bat began with a mixture of boos and cheers but that reaction grew progressively more negative after a brutal night at the plate: 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

We don’t know what Rodriguez thought of his performance or of the crowd reaction, because after the game he left the stadium without speaking to reporters. Perhaps his silent exit was actually an example of sincerity, not flakiness.

After all, in his press conference back on Monday in Chicago, Rodriguez himself went on a soliloquy seeking to glorify what’s good about baseball.

“I hope that for one moment during this appeal process that we have the opportunity to talk about the greatest game in the world, to take a little bit of a timeout from this and give the fans of baseball an opportunity to focus on all the great stories that are happening in baseball right now,” Rodriguez said. “Above all, I’m a huge baseball fan, and I hope that we can put some light on a lot of this. I hope for today we can take a timeout, take a deep breath and focus on these great baseball stories.”

His wish is my command, and there was a great baseball story on this very diamond this very night involving a player at Rodriguez’s very position.

So dramatic was the climactic moment that Tigers rightfielder Torii Hunter is already talking Hollywood movie scripts, and his postgame comments served as a de facto director’s commentary of the drama that unfolded in the top of the ninth inning. That was when Yankees closer Mariano Rivera faced Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera with two outs, a man on and a 3-1 Yankees lead. “Greatness Greatness,” by the way, is Hunter’s working title for the project.

“You’ve got the best closer to ever play the game and probably the best hitter of our time at the plate,” Hunter said.

We have our scene-stealing cast. We have a grand setting and a situation with inherent drama. Now all we need is character development, for one of our protagonists to overcome adversity. Cue the two foul balls that Cabrera smacked off his left knee.

After the first one, Cabrera grimaced in obvious pain and reached down to his left leg. He hobbled around home plate. The trainer came for a visit. That ailing knee, a fulcrum of power and torque for a righthanded hitter, would have been a concern for any batter, much less one facing the closing position’s G.O.A.T.

Asked later if he was in pain, Cabrera said, “I was playing. I wasn’t worried about that.”

Said Hunter added, “He won’t leave the plate. He’s a hitter. He wants to hit no matter what.”

Indeed, rather than exit the game, Cabrera did the seemingly unthinkable under the circumstances: he turned on a 93-mile-per-hour cutter over the inside corner — pivoting on that bad knee — and crushed a home run of at least 420 feet to dead-centerfield to tie the game and preserve, for one more inning, Detroit’s 12-game winning streak.

“Foul balls off his leg, it looked like he was defeated,” Hunter said. “And then next thing you know, homer. Perfect script. They should make a movie of that at bat.”

Cabrera appeared to be in enough pain that he didn’t step forward with his front leg like normal but stepped back away from the plate a little, perhaps to minimize the twisting on the sore knee — not that Cabrera himself would admit to such a thing, insisting later, “It didn’t hurt to swing.”

And the home run wasn’t merely a wall scraper to a shallow corner-field porch, but a shot into the netting over Monument Park beyond the deep centerfield wall. Even Rivera mouthed the word “wow” on the mound, telling Newsday after the game he did so “because [Cabrera] was limping. That was amazing.”

The movie’s denouement, however, took an unexpected turn, as the Yankees still won in the 10th inning for a 4-3 victory.

But no matter the final score or the amount of booing or any other extraneous storyline, there was a great baseball story in the ninth inning. And with two games left in the series, we can only hope there’s a sequel.

9 comments
dinohealth
dinohealth

Joe, revisited your story after a hobbled Cabrera's spectacular and historic performance against the Yanks and the great Rivera.  Three, back-to-back-to-back homers, in three, consecutive, games!  Two homers, back-to-back, in the ninth, against the greatest closer in Baseball history, Rivera; first player to accomplish that feat in 19 years!  Miggy's performance has pretty much overshadowed anything else going on, and, singularly, helped us focus on what is really the greatest baseball story this year: Cabrera's unprecedented quest for back-to-back Triple Crown and MVP titles!  Must feel great when one of the greatest offensive players of all time goes out and backs up your story! 

Davos1
Davos1

To be fair though, A-Roid has never been an alcholic, threatened to shot someone with a gun, been arrested, or charged with DUI. All this points out is SI should be putting no one on a pedestal. These are players, not heroes.

khangol
khangol

It was not only his knee that was bothering him; he's been playing with a bad hip, bad back and strained abs for weeks. To be able to swing the bad like that without the full use of his legs and torso is amazing. To do it off the greatest closer in history is beyond amazing.

DEJ1948
DEJ1948

I guess anyone who thought A-Rod would represent an upgrade at third base will take a moment to consider the folly of their expectations.  A guy who hits under .200 in the low minors is hardly going to make a ripple in the show. The sooner his suspension takes effect, the better.

dinohealth
dinohealth

Great story, Joe, and thanks to you, and SI, for putting the spotlight on Miggy, where it should be, after this epic at-bat!  Even the AP story has a shared headline of Rodriguez getting booed on top; missing the greatness of this epic at-bat of Cabrera VS. Rivera.  Unlike the poem, the Great One, homered, this time!  This is the stuff that baseball lore is made of, and, I am so glad you, and SI, did not miss the opportunity to point out that in our collective baseball conscience, that special match up at the plate, and, its outcome, is what makes this game great!  Miggy is really having a season for all seasons! 

ChrisL
ChrisL

@Davos1 Except that Cabrera admitted he has a problem, sought counseling, and has been clean since the 2011 event of which you speak. Rodriguez, on the other hand, denies, denies, denies and points the finger at everyone but himself.

dinohealth
dinohealth

@Davos1 To be fair, the great Babe Ruth had a drinking problem, also.  Are these guys heroes of the great game of Baseball?  Yes!  Are they heroes in real life?  Certainly not.  

dinohealth
dinohealth

@DEJ1948 Yeah, but, your comment misses the point.  The greatest story-line in this game, as the writer points out,  was Cabrera VS. Rivera, with the game, and, win streak of the Tigers on the line.  Cabrera delivering a monstrous homer, with two outs, two strikes, and while hobbled, is what made this an epic match up, and, game; regardless of the outcome of the game, and, the sideshow that Selig and the owners have created in pursuit of their witch hunt and greed for more money.