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Friday, October 12, 2012
A-Rod becomes Yankees' scapegoat

By Amanda Rykoff

We are through the looking glass, people. I’m not an A-Rod fan and I certainly never expected to be coming to his defense, but here we are. Alex Rodriguez, the future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players of our generation, has been benched for Friday’s critical ALDS Game 5 against the Orioles. And I’m not happy about it.

Why am I criticizing the benching of someone who is 2-for-16 (.125) with no RBIs and nine strikeouts in four games? Because it’s not just A-Rod who is struggling offensively. The entire team -- with the notable exception of ageless captain Derek Jeter and pinch hitter extraordinaire Raul Ibanez -- is having one of its most pathetic and moribund offensive series in recent memory.

This represents a classic scapegoat move. It’s easy to blame A-Rod. He’s high-visibility and making $29 million this year. He’s also one of the most polarizing figures in all of baseball. I want to root for him and I want him to succeed. I do not boo him when he strikes out with runners in scoring position (like he did in the eighth inning of Game 4, with runners at second and third with one out). But it’s become such a way of life for Yankees fans to blame A-Rod that my friend introduced me to a shorthand way of referencing the rule -- It Always Comes Down To Alex (or #IACDTA).

But the decision to bench A-Rod goes beyond his struggles -- it’s a microcosm of the entire team’s offensive woes. The Yankees cannot buy a hit these days (see what I did there?). A-Rod’s looked bad but Curtis Granderson (1-for-16 with nine strikeouts) has looked worse. Four Yankees starters -- Granderson, Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano -- are all hitting under .200.

There’s more at play here than numbers. If Girardi went strictly “by the binder” (and many Yankees fans mock Girardi’s reliance on his big book), he’d know that A-Rod actually has a decent track record against Orioles starter Jason Hammel. In 29 plate appearances, Rodriguez has four home runs, nine RBIs and a slash line of .333/.448/.833. He’s 0 for his last 5 at-bats against Hammel, but I’ll take my chances even if it’s based on a relatively small sample size.

What started Wednesday night with a gut call by Girardi to pinch hit Ibanez for A-Rod has morphed beyond anything I could ever imagine, even as a Yankees fan. So here we are, about to start a win-or-go-home game against a division rival with Eric Chavez starting at third base. While Chavez has better numbers this season against righties than A-Rod (an OPS of .894 compared to A-Rod’s .694), it’s still remarkable.

But I know with Rodriguez on the bench -- even with the rest of the lineup’s struggles exposed -- it somehow still will come down to A-Rod. It always does.