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Yankees' revival led by Rodriguez

Yankees' revival led by Rodriguez

NEW YORK -- One thing has become increasingly clear: If the Yankees do not succeed this season, it is going to be very difficult to blame Alex Rodriguez.

After an otherworldly April and a merely mortal May, A-Rod is back on top in June. He drove in 18 runs in the first 10 days of the month, as many RBIs as any player had in that span in the last 57 seasons. And since then, he hasn't exactly flatlined.

Rodriguez kept up the pace over this Subway Series weekend. On Sunday night in the 2007 Series finale, he set the tone with a first-inning, two-run home run. He added another RBI with a sacrifice fly in the third, as the Yankees won the second half of the Series with an 8-2 victory over the Mets. Rodriguez also doubled later, but he was leading off an inning, and no further RBIs were available at the time.

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After the evening's work, Rodriguez had 27 home runs and 73 RBIs.

"That's a pretty good season already," Yankees center fielder Johnny Damon said. "And there's no sign of him slowing down. The guy's amazing."

Any number of players, putting up the numbers over a season that Alex Rodriguez has in mid-June, would be calling their agents, putting in motion requests for renegotiations of their contracts.

But in this case, 60 percent of the season remains. Rodriguez is on a pace for 65 home runs. That's gaudy, but even more substantially, he is on a pace for 177 RBIs. That would put him in Mr. Hack Wilson's general record-setting neighborhood. It would be work of true historical value.

It should also be duly reported that Rodriguez made a diving play to his left in the second inning to take a hit away from Carlos Delgado. As much as Chien-Ming Wang's relentless work on the mound made victory possible for the Yankees on Sunday night, A-Rod's performance helped to make certain that Wang's performance would not be in vain.

It is possible that as stunning as A-Rod's April was -- 14 home runs, 34 RBIs -- it did not receive the usual level of acclaim because at the time, there was so much gnashing of teeth about the Yankees' early-season struggles. Or, as Rodriguez put it on Sunday night, "April was OK, but we weren't winning games, so it was kind of hard to enjoy it."

Now we are apparently in an entirely different era within the 2007 season. The Yankees have won 11 of their last 12 games and 14 of their last 17. Alex Rodriguez has been inescapably at the core of the Yankees' revival.

Even if he does not keep up this stratospheric run-production pace, it is obvious that Rodriguez is on his way to a truly superior season, the kind of season that is within the reach of only a few hitters, even in the contemporary game.

It may be time to dispense with the baggage that has accompanied Rodriguez around the Bronx for the last three-plus seasons, even when he was winning an American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2005.

Does it matter that he is not beloved by one and all, in the fan base, in the media, in the clubhouse? Not at this pace, it shouldn't. And at 177 RBIs, it couldn't.

Does it matter that he is not considered by some to be a "true Yankee"? And, by the way, who gets to make that call? Apparently being baseball's most talented all-around player does not get you in the front door in this category. But if at first you are not considered a "true Yankee" is there a court of appeals somewhere to which you can take your case in hopes of achieving true Yankee-ness?

It may be that Alex Rodriguez can achieve monumental things and still never satisfy people. That is the one and only downside of receiving baseball's richest contract, $252 million. The money has set Alex Rodriguez apart, and not always in a particularly positive way. No one is going to feel sorry for him. No one should feel sorry for him. But what kind of production would justify that kind of money? Maybe 80 home runs? Perhaps 200 RBIs? And the next year, does he have to hit 81 home runs and drive in 201 to prove that he's not losing his edge?

In the end, the career of Alex Rodriguez, for widespread validation, would require the one item that has been absent so far -- a World Series championship. And one man, no matter how talented, does not get there alone.

For now, Alex Rodriguez is doing everything humanly possible to get the New York Yankees to that level. And the understanding that he can't do it alone actually helps him achieve these astounding numbers.

In May, Rodriguez said, "I wasn't slumping. I was getting myself out."

By that, he meant that he was expanding the strike zone, attempting to do too much himself, and in so doing, achieving less than he could have achieved.

Back to being more selective, Rodriguez is back to being more sensational. He describes a recent at-bat, a walk with the bases loaded against the Pirates, and concludes:

"I was as proud of that at-bat as any home run. You have to trust your teammates."

Those are the words of someone who has found a balance between his own unparalleled talents and the requirements of a group undertaking. Things are looking up again for the Yankees, but their direction is still uphill. If this is another season that does not end with the seemingly necessary championship, the finger of blame is going have to point in a direction that does not include Alex Rodriguez.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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