David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
If there is any player capable of leading the Yankees out of this springtime wasteland, it’s got to be Alex Rodriguez, right?
For five innings Sunday night, it sure looked that way, as A-Rod twice put the wounded Yankees in front at Fenway Park. He hit a two-run homer off David Price for a 3-1 lead in the third and lined a two-run double for a 5-4 edge in the fifth (before scoring on Mark Teixeira’s single for a two-run lead).DataA-Rod's career home runsStoryIt’s not going to get any easier for Yankees
Both were rockets to the farthest centerfield edge of the Green Monster. One into the seats, the other just above the reach of the leaping Jackie Bradley Jr. For those two at-bats, Rodriguez owned Fenway again and the Yankees felt like the Yankees again.
“I thought we’d win the game,” he said.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, not even A-Rod can do it alone, and his heroics were vaporized when Dellin Betances surrendered the go-ahead home run to Christian Vazquez — the third homer he’s given up in three games. So what should have been another A-Rod party, in the Red Sox’s backyard, instead was an 8-7 loss, the Yankees’ fifth straight and 13th in 17 games.
“Hopefully I set the tone for us,” said Rodriguez, who is 7-for-16 with three homers, three doubles and six RBIs in the four games since his Wednesday return from an oblique twinge. “We haven’t done what we did tonight in a long time. I think this is an offense that can score five runs a night, and that’s a good base for us.”
While no one else seems prepared, or even willing, to accept such a responsibility, that’s part of A-Rod’s job description. It comes with the $275-million contract. And after he absorbed all those Biogenesis-related bullets, we’re convinced Rod riguez is mostly immune to the sort of pressure that apparently is crushing the rest of the clubhouse like an empty soda can.
In Friday night’s series opener, A-Rod went mano-a- mano with David Ortiz in slugging a 425-foot homer off a light tower atop the Green Monster. On that night, however, Big Papi got the best of him by victimizing Betances for the winning blast.
But all that did was help create even more drama for Sunday night. Two Fenway losses, with the spiraling Yankees desperate for answers, made what happened in the finale almost predictable.
Rodriguez can talk about everyone needing to carry the load, but he still needs to be the one driving the bus, because even at age 40, that’s what we expect him to do.
On Sunday night, with the Yankees down 1-0 in the third, he heard the usual boos as he walked to the plate. It’s probably what he enjoys the most about playing here, and the park had barely settled down when he clubbed Price’s first pitch over the Green Monster.
A-Rod’s fifth homer this season, and No. 692 for his career, tied him with Joe DiMaggio for the fifth-most by an opposing player at Fenway with 29. The two-run blast also restored some confidence, albeit briefly, for a team in need of an ego boost.
“That was encouraging,” Joe Girardi said. “We need to get him going. He’s a big part of our offense.”
When A-Rod was forced to leave the April 24 game with the oblique twinge, the assumption was that the injury might signal the beginning of the end. But he showed up at Fenway on a mission.
It was A-Rod or bust over the weekend. But the rest of the Yankees haven’t kept up with him.
“It’s frustrating, no question,” Rodriguez said. “We expect better things from ourselves.”
From everyone else, maybe. We don’t see what more A-Rod can do.