Commentary

Rockin' Robbie won't let 'em miss a beat

With banged-up Bombers like Alex Rodriguez missing time, Cano helping carry club

Updated: September 5, 2011, 11:30 AM ET
By Rob Parker | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The reason the New York Yankees haven't missed Alex Rodriguez is simple.

His name is Robinson Cano.

On Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, when A-Rod returned to action after missing six games with a sprained left thumb, Cano delivered -- again.

Cano, the cleanup hitter even though Rodriguez was back in the lineup, rapped a two-out, two-run double in the seventh inning to give the Yankees the lead for good en route to a 6-4 come-from-behind victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

Cano also knocked in the game-winner Friday night.

[+] EnlargeCano
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesRobinson Cano, who got another big hit on Saturday, helped keep the Bombers rolling this season when Alex Rodriguez was absent from the lineup.

It's impossible not to love watching Cano play baseball. He does it all. He hits, and hits for power. He drives in runs. In the field, few are as smooth. Cano turns the double play with such ease and has a crazy-hot arm. You'd almost think he was the best player on the team, not A-Rod.

Most teams would have been in trouble when their star slugger went down. Rodriguez missed almost six weeks after having surgery on his right knee. A-Rod was working on 14 straight seasons with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs when he was sidelined.

The first-place Yankees, though, didn't stumble. Cano, for sure, picked up the slack, especially when he was inserted into the cleanup spot in the batting order.

"It's amazing how many people just don't talk about him," center fielder Curtis Granderson said about Cano. "I don't know why.

"Not only did he make an All-Star team again this year, won the Home Run Derby, no one has mentioned that after the fact. He's the one guy that has been consistently around the .300 average mark for us. He just hit the 100-RBI mark again. And last, but not least, everybody's forgetting about how good his defense is. He's done a little bit of everything just about every day."

Although it wasn't an intentional walk to Rodriguez to set up Cano's big at-bat in the seventh, Cano felt slighted. Despite falling behind 0-2 in the count, Cano made reliever Casey Janssen pay. "I said, 'Wow," Cano said. "Every time I see they walk a guy in front of me, that pumps me up and I say, 'Come on.'

"That's a situation where you've got to show them they've got to pitch to the guy in front of you."

Cano -- who had a ringing double to right-center -- has been clutch batting in the four-hole this season. He's batting .311 (41-for-132) with four homers and 28 RBIs. "I don't think it matters where Robbie Cano hits, he's going to hit," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's not going to mind the stage. This kid loves to play the game, loves the pressure moments. That's one of the reasons he's so successful."

This isn't the first time Cano -- who is batting .307 with 23 HRs and 101 RBIs -- has been asked to step up and do more. Last season, Cano was moved up to the fifth spot in the lineup, replacing the productive Hideki Matsui. More importantly, Cano had to protect slugger A-Rod in the batting order. Cano delivered with flying colors. In fact, Cano put together the best season of his career -- .319 with 29 HRs and 109 RBIs.

"We saw him really step up last year," Girardi said. "That was kind of his breakout year. Thought he had as good of a chance as anyone to win the MVP because of what he does offensively and defensively.

"The expectations are that he's going to do that every year."

His play has been historic already. With 200 hits in 2010 and 204 hits in 2009, Cano is the first Yankees second baseman to record back-to-back 200-hit seasons. His 444 extra-base hits since 2005 are more than any other second baseman in baseball history through his first seven major league seasons.

Cano is a strong finisher, too. His .337 career batting average in regular-season games (minimum 300 plate appearances) in September and October is fifth-best in baseball since 1950.

That's the reason Girardi said sports writers shouldn't count out Cano when it comes to the American League MVP this season. All the talk has been about Granderson and Boston's Adrian Gonzalez. Both are having outstanding campaigns.

"I wouldn't write him off in that MVP race yet, that's what I wouldn't do," said Girardi of Cano. "Because we know what he's capable of doing and carrying a club and putting up a big month and God knows where his numbers might end up, you know, at the end of the year.

"Robbie Cano is a staple in our lineup. It's a pleasure to pencil his name in there every day. It's real easy. The hard part is when to pick to give him a day off. That's the hardest part of my job."

You would have thought the hardest part for Cano would have been filling A-Rod's shoes. Nope. Not at all.

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