Results tagged ‘ Barry Bonds ’

A-Rod welcomes Thome into 600 Club

What happened Monday night at Detroit’s Comerica Park fell into that “How Times Flies” category. Could it have possibly been 20 years ago that I sat in the press box at Yankee Stadium and watched a rookie named Jim Thome hit his first home run in the major leagues? The answer, of course, is yes, and I thought a lot about that when he slugged two balls over the left field fence to bring his career total to 600.

Back on Oct. 4, 1991, Thome made his very first big-league homer memorable. It was a two-run shot in the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium off righthander Steve Farr and wiped out a 2-1 Yankees lead and pushed the Indians toward a 3-2 victory before a meager crowd of 14,627. Farr, then the Yankees closer (he was 5-5 with 23 saves that year), entered the game with one out and a runner on first base in relief of lefthander Lee Guetterman.

Despite the fact that Thome was a left-handed batter, Yankees manager Stump Merrill brought in Farr because he preferred the gutsy veteran against the raw kid. Over the years, the Yankees would see a lot of Thome’s swing. He has hit 26 home runs in his career against the Yankees, plus another four against them in the 1998 American League Championship Series.

I was supposed to meet up with Thome in the winter of 2008 when he was scheduled to go to Cooperstown, N.Y., to present the ball he hit during the 2007 season for his 500th home run to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I had been assigned to cover the event, but it was twice canceled because of blizzards. I think he finally got to the Hall on an off-day during the season, but I was off covering something else.

Thome is only the eighth player in history to reach 600 home runs in a career. This is a special group that also has Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Junior Griffey, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa.

A-Rod, who is on an injury-rehabilitation assignment at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, probably summed up the consensus opinion about the latest member of the 600 Club by saying, “Jim is one of the easiest players of our generation to root for. It’s hard to overshadow 600 home runs, because it is a tremendous accomplishment and an exclamation point on a career bound for the Hall of Fame. But to me, the way he has treated the game – and the people in and around it – will always be the first thing that I think of when I think of Jim Thome. In so many ways, he is a legend of our game.”

Yanks feast on Birds

Man, did the Yankees ever need a dose of the Orioles. Despite the makeover that manager Buck Showalter is trying to achieve in Baltimore, the Yankees seem to come alive when they see those orange and black uniforms.

The Yankees entered Wednesday night’s game with a .230 team batting average and off a two-hit shutout Sunday night at Boston. Two innings into the game, the Yankees had supplied A.J. Burnett a 6-0 lead, which gave the righthander room to correct his mechanics after throwing 53 pitches before the third inning.

When the mist cleared, the Yankees had a 7-4 victory that moved them into a first-place tie with the Orioles in the American League East. The Yanks have had 13 straight non-losing season series against the Birds and have won at least 11 games against Baltimore nine times in the past 10 seasons. The Yankees have won 25 of the past 32 games against the O’s and are 38-17 against them since the start of 2008.

Jorge Posada, with a home run and a single, and Mark Teixeira, with two singles, ended slumps of 19 and 18 at-bats, respectively. Back in the lineup after a bout of the flu, Alex Rodriguez hit his 617th career home run, a three-run, opposite-field job in the first inning that pushed his RBI total to 1,839 to tie Hall of Famers Al Simmons and Ted Williams for 11th place on the all-time list. With six more RBI, A-Rod will knock another Hall of Famer, Carl Yastrzemski, out of the top 10.

Also moving up a career list was Derek Jeter with two hits for 2,935 to tie Barry Bonds, who did not have as good a day in a San Francisco courtroom, for 32nd place in knocks.

Burnett had a sharp bite on his curve (sometimes too much, evidenced by three wild pitches) and his best changeup. He took a shutout into the seventh before losing it as he got to the 100-pitch area and was touched for two-run home runs by Matt Wieters and Brian Roberts. The victory improved Burnett’s record to 3-0 despite a 4.67 ERA.

The Orioles have historically been a good match for Burnett, who improved his career mark against them to 12-4, even though his ERA is a somewhat lofty 4.54. April has always been a good month for Burnett, who was also 3-0 last April and has a career mark of 19-9 with a 3.92 ERA in the season’s first month.

The question remains whether Burnett can maintain the consistency and not fall into the same traps that ruined 2010 for him. He is off to a promising start.

How much did Lee lose?

Did Cliff Lee hurt his bargaining power with his two losses in the World Series? Although he pitched brilliantly for six innings Monday night, the three-run home run Lee allowed to Edgar Renteria in the seventh essentially lost the World Series for the Rangers, who will have to dig deep into their pockets, which aren’t exactly Texas size, to retain the lefthander bound for free agency.

The Yankees haven’t made any secret of their interest in Lee, who beat them twice in the 2009 World Series and again in Game 3 of this year’s American League Championship Series. General manager Brian Cashman tried to trade for Lee in July and almost had a deal in place before the Rangers swooped in and grabbed him from Seattle.

Lee was not exactly lights out for Texas during the regular season (4-6, 3.98 ERA) after a terrific start with the Mariners (8-3, 2.34 ERA). That’s a combined record of 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA, which is not all that imposing. Lee is looking for CC Sabathia-type money, but those statistics aren’t CC Sabathia-type numbers.

Speaking of numbers, Lee went from 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA in the 2009 World Series to 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA in the 2010 World Series. Now I’m not forgetting his two victories over the Rays on the road in the Division Series or his Game 3 gem against the Yankees in the ALCS, also on the road. In fact, Lee did not lose on the road or win in Texas in the post-season, so maybe Rangers Ballpark In Arlington is not the place for him.

One thing the Yankees have to be careful about is how they look at a pitcher who has been successful against them (9-4, 3.81 ERA, including post-season play). Not to pick on A.J. Burnett, but his attractiveness to the Yankees two off-seasons ago was based a lot on how he pitched against them. The problem is that if a player goes to his “cousin,” then he doesn’t have that “cousin” anymore.

Don’t get the idea that I’m ranking on Lee. He would be a great addition to the Yankees. I’m just saying his price tag may have to be re-arranged a bit.

For old-time Giants fans, the ones still sore at their leaving the Polo Grounds for San Francisco in 1958, you will have to admit that the Curse of Coogan’s Bluff is over now that the Giants have their first championship in the Bay Area. The 1962 Giants of Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal couldn’t do it. The 1989 Giants of Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell and Matt Williams couldn’t do it. The 2002 Giants of Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and Robb Nen couldn’t do it. Managers as talented as Alvin Dark, Roger Craig and Dusty Baker couldn’t do it.

It came down to the Bruce Bochy-directed Giants of Renteria, Juan Uribe, Aubrey Huff and Cody Ross, plus a string of excellent young pitchers Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, plus an exceptional rookie catcher Buster Posey, plus a paint-it-black bearded closer Brian Wilson, not to be confused with the Beach Boy.

Lincecum outpitched Lee in Game 5, which was also characterized by Bochy out-managing Ron Washington. In the sixth inning, Mitch Moreland led off with a single for the Rangers in what was then a scoreless game. Instead of playing for one run against the overpowering Lincecum, Washington eschewed the sacrifice and had Elvis Andrus swing away on a hit-and-run play, but he lined out to center and Moreland had to scurry back to first base. Again, no bunt with one out, and Michael Young flied out to center as well.

In the seventh, when the Giants put their first two runners on with singles by Ross and Uribe on two-strike pitches, Bochy ordered the bunt from Huff, who did not have a sacrifice in a 13-season career.  A pro, Huff got the ball down and put the runners in scoring position. Lee got the second out by punching out Pat Burrell, who had a brutal Series (0-for13, 11 strikeouts).

Again, Washington blundered by not ordering Renteria walked intentionally and let Lee go after Aaron Rowand. Lee appeared to be pitching around Renteria, but why take the risk of a pitch going awry, such as the 2-0 cutter that the Giants shortstop clubbed for a three-run homer? Never mind that Lee didn’t want to walk Renteria; who’s running the club, the pitcher of the manager?

It was the second game-winning hit in a World Series clinching game for Renteria, who won the 1997 Series for the Marlins against the Indians with an 11th-inning single. Only two other players have done that in Series history, both Yankees – Lou Gehrig (Game 4 in 1928 against the Cardinals and Game 6 in 1936 against the Giants) and Yogi Berra (Game 4 in 1950 against the Phillies and Game 7 in 1956 against the Dodgers). Joe DiMaggio also had two game-winning RBI in Series clinching games (Game 4 in 1939 against the Reds and Game 5 in 1949 against the Dodgers), but the latter was not on a hit but a sacrifice fly.

Renteria’s were far more dramatic than the others because in each case the hits broke ties from the seventh inning on. The Giants simply shut down the Rangers after Texas got back into the Series by winning Game 3. The Rangers scored one run (on Nelson Cruz’s seventh inning solo homer off Lincecum) in the last 21 innings and did not get a single runner in scoring position in Game 5.

It was hard to believe this was the same team that had, in Cashman’s word, “manhandled” the Yankees.

Yanks got last licks on Ted

There were reminisces aplenty about Tuesday’s 50th anniversary of Ted Williams’ final at-bat in the major leagues in which he hit a home run, career No. 521, which at the time was the third highest total in history behind only Babe Ruth (714) and Jimmie Foxx (534). A lot has changed in half a century. Teddy Ballgame now stands in a three-way tie with Willie McCovey and Frank Thomas for 18th place, and Barry Bonds (762) and Hank Aaron (755) have long since passed the Babe.

As for what Williams did his last time up in the big leagues, thousands of words have been written about the grand style in which he ended his career by lofting one into the right field seats at Fenway Park. That is all well and good, but for me that is just the usual batch of Red Sox Nation tripe.

I have a personal beef about the whole matter from the mindset of a pre-teen who got stood up by the guy they called the “Splendid Splinter.” He wasn’t much of a splinter by then, nor at 42 did he fit his other nickname, “The Kid,” and from my point of view he damn sure wasn’t splendid.

Here’s why. Do you know what little piece of information all those Boston boors leave out of their Teddy’s last at-bat stories? How about this: nobody in the yard knew it was Williams’ last at-bat until after the game. That’s right. The Red Sox still had three more games to play, at Yankee Stadium, but after the game Williams told the writers that he wasn’t going to New York. The Yankees had already clinched the American League pennant, the Red Sox had been dead meat for a month, so there was no point in his making the trip.

Now doesn’t take a bit of the bite out of that story. I mean, it would have rung truer if he had told the press before the game that he wasn’t playing any more. To Red Sox fans, this was the perfect ending to a Hall of Fame career by admittedly one of the game’s greatest hitters. But to Yankees fans holding tickets to games that weekend, it was a big gyp. The only allure of the series was to see Williams bow out, not watch Carroll Hardy in left field.

My uncle, Bill Gallagher, had gotten tickets for the Friday night game Sept. 30, 1960, and we talked about Williams on the ride to the Stadium. I was really into baseball in those days and was amazed at how vital the two great aging stars of that time, Williams and Stan Musial, still were. Musial, in fact, would play three more seasons, and I would get to see him three home runs in one game at the Polo Grounds in 1963 when he was 42.

God bless Casey Stengel, then in his last year as manager of the Yankees. Although the Yankees were already set for the World Series, ‘ol Case started his regular lineup. Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and the rest. The Red Sox? No Ted Williams. What?

Unlike today’s 24/7 media whirlwind, information from out of town came slowly in those days. A man sitting in the seat next to Uncle Bill said that he heard that Williams decided not to accompany the team to town. Truth be told, I had not been much of a Yankees fan to that point in my life, but I cheered my head off for them that night. To make matters worse, the Red Sox almost won the game.

What follows comes from my old, pencil-scribbled scorecard, boys and girls (I still score in pencil).

Bill Monbouquette, a wonderful guy whom I would get to know more than 20 years later when he was the pitching coach for the Mets, was Boston’s best pitcher and took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but he was replaced by lefthander Tom Brewer after Bobby Richardson led off with a single. Brewer gave up a single to Gil McDougald, and the Yankees had a rally going.

Tony Kubek, another terrific person I would get to know years later, flied out, but Hector Lopez and Maris followed with singles to tie the score and put runners on first and third. Mantle had come out of the game earlier, and his spot in the lineup was taken by Bob Cerv, the thickly-built, right-handed hitter.

Boston manager Pinky Higgins brought in a right-handed pitcher I had never heard of, but a year later he would almost be a household name – Tracy Stallard, the guy who gave up Maris’ 61st home run. On this night, Stallard would be done in by his second baseman, a September callup named Marlan Coughtry. Thanks to him, I learned something important about the game – the need to remain calm in a crisis.

Cerv hit a grounder to Coughtry, who considering Cerv’s lack of speed should have thrown to second base to start a double play. Instead, he decided to tag Maris in the base path and then throw to first. Maris, who never got enough credit for being a heads-up player, put on the brakes and went into reverse. Coughtry took the bait. Lopez broke for the plate. The rookie tagged Maris eventually for the second out but in hesitating lost any chance to get the third out as Lopez scored the winning run.

Talk about a satisfying finish! It made me forget all about Ted Williams, who insulted baseball fans in New York so that he could have all his Beantown acolytes wax poetic about his going deep in his last big-league plate appearance.

In other news. . .

Oh, that’s right. The Yankees played a game Wednesday. It wasn’t as if Alex Rodriguez was out there alone trying to homer himself into history. The other Yankees had a job to do, too, which was to avoid what would have been their first four-game losing streak of the season.

That was the most satisfying aspect of Rodriguez’s 600th career home run. The two-run shot came in the first inning and gave the Yankees a lead that they would not relinquish. Derek Jeter scored ahead of A-Rod on what would be a four-hit day for the captain. Phil Hughes, battling a cold, gutted his way through 5 1/3 innings and allowed one run. Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera combined for 3 2/3 innings of scoreless, 1-hit relief. Mark Teixeira drove in three runs with a double and a single, and the team was flawless in the field.

“We needed to win a ballgame,” Rodriguez said afterwards.

Sure did. A-Rod’s march to 600 had become a gauntlet, and the Yankees skidded along with him, dropping five games in the American League East standings and out of first place.

“It hadn’t been a lot of fun,” Rodriguez said. “I had found a niche in that clubhouse, to let my bat do the talking instead of talking so much to you guys [press]. The last 10 days have been the opposite. I was pressing because I wanted to get it out of the way I don’t like to talk that much about myself. That’s the old Alex. So much has changed – my place on in the clubhouse, my relationship with my teammates. We’re about winning and checking our egos at the door. No personal achievement can top celebrating on the mound as the last team standing.”

After another hitless game Tuesday night, Rodriguez hung around the clubhouse late and had a long talk with his captain. Jeter went through a similar challenge last year in pursuit of Lou Gehrig’s franchise record for hits. Derek centered on A-Rod’s 0-for-17 slump more than the 46 at-bat homerless stretch and told Alex he needed to relax and just get a hit, bunt if you have to.

The funny thing is that when Rodriguez came to bat with Jeter on first base and two out in the first inning, I turned to my friend Kevin Kernan of the New York Post and said, “He ought to lay one down here. The shortstop and third baseman are in left field. Give Robinson Cano a shot to drive in some runs.”

Alex had other ideas, of course, but Jeter had not forgotten the previous night’s conversation. When he embraced A-Rod at the plate, DJ said, “I guess I can forget about that bunt.”

The collective met the personal for A-Rod, who last year learned the importance of teamwork in earning his first World Series ring. The Yankees’ 27th championship came at the end of a 2009 season that began with Rodriguez’s admission of past use of anabolic steroids, a stain he knows he must live with the rest of his career.

“I said last year that there were things in my life I wish I could change,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve often said things in the past that had been hot air, and I didn’t follow through. I learned that you have to walk the walk.”

“Congratulations to Alex on this great achievement and on adding another highlight to Yankees history,” Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. “We are especially proud he accomplished the feat as a Yankee and here before the most loyal fans in baseball.”

Rodriguez was the second player to hit his 600th home run in a Yankees uniform. The other was Babe Ruth, who once held the record for career home runs. That now belongs to Barry Bonds at 762. Can A-Rod catch him?

“It took three years to the day for me to hit 100, so that’s not on my radar now,” Rodriguez said.

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was playing for the Padres in the game 40 years ago when Willie Mays got his 600th home run in 1970 at San Diego.

“Not too many people can say that they’ve seen that twice,” Gaston said. “I think that if Alex stays healthy he can get to 700. I don’t know if he’ll pass Hank [Aaron, who had 755] or Bonds. What’s interesting to me is that he hit his 600th on the same date that he hit his 500th three years ago. You do the math, and he’d be around 700 at around 38. He has to stay healthy.”

Alex was able to get the ball because it did not go into the stands and was retrieved by a security guard who climbed onto the netting above Monument Park beyond the center field fence at Yankee Stadium. Frankie Babilonia of lower Manhattan became a part of the story just doing his job was rewarded with a bat from A-Rod

“It’s definitely a special number, and I’m certain certainly proud of it,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe years from now I can reflect on it a lot better.”

For now, he will remember that it came in a victory that his team really desperately needed.

Finally

So there.

Maybe it was standing on third base Tuesday night and watching four players from the Blue Jays breeze past him finishing their home run trots that got to Alex Rodriguez or perhaps he was just waiting for Wednesday, the third anniversary of his reaching 500 career home runs.

Whatever the reason, A-Rod finally became the seventh member of major league baseball’s 600 Club with a first-inning blow off a 2-0 fastball from Shaun Marcum that landed on the netting atop Monument Park.

Considering the traffic around Yankee Stadium Wednesday, there were quite a few ticket holders that had yet to reach their seats before Rodriguez went deep for the first time in nearly two weeks, ending an odyssey that had grown to epic proportions and coincided with a five-game Yankees slide down the American League East standings since July 23, the day after A-Rod got to 599.

They were a second-place club when they took the field Wednesday, but all that seemed to be on everyone’s mind was whether Rodriguez would end this drought that covered 46 at-bats that included a hitless string of 17 at-bats leading into his first plate appearance.

So the long wait is over, and Alex can now breathe freely and intake the rarified air that he shares with Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa. Exclusive company that. So now A-Rod’s team can get back to the business at hand, which is to catch the Rays and keep the Red Sox from climbing up their backs.

Oddly, Rodriguez’s quest drew scant national attention beyond the nightly ESPN SportsCenter updates. Not a single national baseball columnist flew into town to witness the event. And when Sunday’s game in St. Petersburg, Fla., was cablecast by TBS, A-Rod was not in the lineup, although he did get an at-bat late in the game as a pinch hitter.

Part of that has to do with the tight-belt budgets of newspapers these days and part with Rodriguez’s admission last year that while in his three seasons in Texas he used anabolic steroids. Nevertheless, fans were into it, even in the games last weekend against the Rays. The crowd at the Stadium went ballistic as the ball went into the air. And it was somehow appropriate that the teammate who first met Alex with a hug at the plate was Derek Jeter, who had led off the game with a single.

One more thing; it was no bum off of whom Rodriguez struck his 600th home run. Marcum took a 10-4 record into the game and was on a three-game winning streak in which he had a 2.04 ERA with one walk and 19 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings. That was not some tomato can out there.

Those in the Stadium had the opportunity to purchase a special commemorative issue of Yankees Magazine entitled “All in Stride, an Extraordinary Look at Alex Rodriguez and his Chase for 600.”

The 32-page souvenir featuring in-depth articles and laden with color photographs will be available for the bargain price of $10 at the Stadium for the duration of the homestand as supplies last.

35 candles, not 600

The Yankees did their share to help teammate Alex Rodriguez celebrate his 35th birthday with career home run No. 600. They created a dramatic situation Tuesday night at Cleveland’s Progressive Field in the ninth inning wherein A-Rod’s 600th would have tied the score.

In the end, it was another oh-fer for Rodriguez as the wait to become the seventh member of the 600 Home Run Club continues. A-Rod is 0-for-8 in two games at Cleveland, but he wasn’t the only Yankees hitter who suffered Tuesday night against Indians rookie righthander Josh Tomlin, who was making his major-league debut and held the Bombers to one run and three hits in seven-plus innings.

Rodriguez grounded out twice and flied out against Tomlin. Derek Jeter gave A-Rod a fresh count when he tried to steal second base on a 1-2 pitch from Tomlin to Rodriguez and was thrown out for the final out of the inning. That meant A-Rod could start anew against Tomlin in the fifth, but he grounded out.

Tomlin’s efficiency and that of three Tribe relievers nearly prevented Rodriguez from getting a fourth at-bat. Entering the ninth, the Yankees needed two men to get on base for A-Rod to have one more shot provided there were no double plays.

They did just that as Brett Gardner and Jeter singled to put runners on the corners with none out and bring the potential tying run to the plate. Nick Swisher struck out and Mark Teixeira flied out, leaving it up to A-Rod to square things against the Indians with his 600th dinger.

Tribe closer Chris Perez yielded Rodriguez’s 590th homer, a grand slam May 31 at Yankee Stadium, but there was no drama this time. Perez got a called strike one on a fastball, then came back with a slider that A-Rod hit softly on the ground to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who got the last out on a force play at second base.

Rodriguez has now gone 21 at-bats since he reached 599 last Thursday night against the Royals at the Stadium. Is he pressing? Of course. He has a history of this, going long stretches of at-bats as he approaches a milestone. Maybe in this case, however, Rodriguez knows that there is something hollow about this achievement.

Think back to when he hit his 500th career homer August 4, 2007 at the Stadium off Kansas City’s Kyle Davies. The feat was widely applauded, and A-Rod was perceived as the antidote to Barry Bonds. Many fans believed Bonds had surpassed Hank Aaron in home runs with the help of performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez’s pursuit of Bonds’ record was a major part of the contract extension he signed with the Yankees prior to the 2008 season that awards him bonuses on passing certain milestones.

Fast forward to the spring of 2009 when A-Rod admitted that he, too, had used anabolic steroids during his three seasons with the Rangers, and the PED stain fell on him as well. It was to Alex’s credit that he did not smirk at baseball fans as Bonds had done and offered confession. Rodriguez found a new appreciation for the game and performed incredibly last October to earn his first World Series ring. And while his image has been altered to a more positive note because of those accomplishments, the fact that a number of his home runs came under the influence of PEDs cannot be dismissed.

In his Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday at Cooperstown, N.Y., Andre Dawson touched on this issue pointedly when he said, “It bothers me when I hear people knock the game. There’s nothing wrong with the game of baseball. Baseball will from time to time, and like anything else in life, fall victim to the mistakes that people make. It’s not pleasant, and it’s not right. Those mistakes have hurt the game and taken a toll on all of us. Individuals have chosen the wrong road and have chosen that as their legacy. Others still have a chance to choose theirs. Do not be lured to the dark side. It’s a stain on the game, a stain gradually being removed. But that’s the people, not the game. There’s nothing wrong with the game. Never has been. I think people just forget why we ever got involved in the game in the first place. When we were nine of 10 years old, we just loved playing the game. What we found was that if you put your heart into this game, if you love this game, the game will love you back.”

Just the same, the Yankees will be relieved when 600 is come and gone and they can all go about the business of winning games and pennants.

Time to toss Derby

Isn’t it time for Major League Baseball to retire the Home Run Derby? What started out as a friendly competition among sluggers during the workout day on the eve of the All-Star Game has morphed into a bloated, dog-and-pony show that has often been responsible for messing up some hitters’ swings.

There is no chance of this happening, of course, because ESPN loves it and years ago turned into a prime-time attraction, if one considers listening to Chris Berman screech away all night attractive. But if this is such a big deal, how come many of baseball’s top home run hitters don’t want anything to do with it?

There was a time when the big thumpers all regularly took their cuts, from Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. But now look. Alex Rodriguez is on the verge of hitting 600 home runs, and he stays away from the Derby. No Ryan Howard, either. And this year Albert Pujols has dropped out.

Why else would Robinson Cano be offered a berth? He is not a classic home run hitter. Cano can’t be faulted for being excited about wanting to compete because he only saw the fun in it not to mention the spotlight. The Yanks wisely thought otherwise and convinced the second baseman to pass on the opportunity.

The Yankees were concerned that the strenuous nature of the event could affect Cano. Hitting coach Kevin Long expressed his unease about Cano’s involvement.

“It’s just an exhausting process,” Long said. “It takes a lot out of you. It’s taxing. You see guys come back after the home run-hitting contest, and it affects their swing.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi convinced Cano that despite the honor of being selected to compete it is not worth the risk, particularly since he has been nagged by a sore lower back recently. It could explain his first real dry spell of the season. Cano  is 3-for-23 (.130) in July and has had a longer stretch of mediocre results dating to June 11 batting .236 with four home runs and nine RBI in 89 at-bats.

Robbie was out of the lineup Wednesday night for the first time this year. He was due for a rest. He’ll get another one the night before the All-Star Game. Now if MLB will just give the whole idea a rest.

Remembering a Yankee killer

With Ken Griffey Jr. having announced his retirement, Alex Rodriguez is now the active home-run leader in the major leagues. A-Rod pushed his total to 591 Thursday in the Yankees’ 6-3 victory over the Orioles. The next stop on the all-time list for Rodriguez is Sammy Sosa, very catchable in sixth place at 609. A-Rod would need to have a monster few months to catch fifth-place Junior at 630, but it remains possible. He has hit at least 47 home runs in a season five times, although not since his 54-homer year of 2007 when he won his third American League Most Valuable Player Award.

Probably most surprising about Griffey’s career is that he was an MVP only once, albeit unanimously, in 1997 when his former teammate, Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez, was the runner-up. Junior somehow got lost playing in Seattle and amid a crowd of contemporaries who used performance-enhancing drugs, as A-Rod himself admitted. The Sosa home-run race with Mark McGwire in 1998 and the growing dominance of Barry Bonds dropped Junior into the background after the turn of the century.

Yet Junior remained the most exciting player to watch since Willie Mays. Yankees fans will never forget , but would like to, his dash around the bases at the Kingdome on Edgar Martinez’s double that produced a walk-off Mariners victory over the Yankees in Game 5 of the first AL Division Series. I can still see third base coach Sam Perlozzo furiously waving Junior home, and his legs churning toward the plate concluding with a picture-perfect slide.

That was a time when I looked forward to Yankees-Mariners games like no other just for the pure pleasure of watching Junior Griffey patrol center field and take target practice at the right field seats. His fence-climbing catch of a Jesse Barfield drive remains one of the best catches I’ve ever seen at Yankee Stadium. His father, Ken Griffey Sr., made one of the greats, too, in left field that is also high on my list.

In retrospect, Griffey’s decision to go home to Cincinnati 10 years ago was a career mistake. He and pitcher Randy Johnson and manager Lou Piniella were the axis that saved major-league ball in Seattle. All eventually left, but none was missed more than Junior. Going to the Reds was a family decision for Griffey. Among his reasons was a desire to play for a team that had its spring training camp in Florida, which the Reds did at that time.

I thought at the time that if Junior had to leave Seattle the best landing place for him would have been Atlanta. The Braves were a winning organization with a terrific general manager-manager combo in John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox, plus the best pitching staff in the game and a spring training facility near Disney World in the backyard of Junior’s adopted residence of Orlando, Fla. Think of how many more World Series the Bravos might have won with Griffey. It might have been a different story for the Yankees in 1996 and ’99.

It’s too bad Junior had a dim view of the Yankees because he was made for the Stadium. He was reprimanded by manager Billy Martin as a youngster when his father played for the Yankees and never forgot it. It was a grudge Griffey should have dropped years ago. He paid them back over the years, batting .311 with 36 home runs and 102 RBI in 501 career at-bats against the Yankees.

The Braves couldn’t come up with a package for Griffey, so off to Cincinnati he went. I can remember when people thought he had an off year in 2000 when he hit .271 with 40 homers and 118 RBI. He never achieved those power numbers again. He had only one other comparable season with the Reds, in 2005 (.301, 35 homers, 92 RBI) as his career took no longer the path of Willie Mays but rather that of Mickey Mantle as injuries piled up higher than his statistics.

News of his retirement became obscured by the story out of Detroit about Armando Galarraga’s bid for a perfect game foiled by umpire Jim Joyce’s erroneous call. That can happen to the best of them. In a Yankees game 32 years ago Thursday, Lou Gehrig hit four home runs and Tony Lazzeri hit for the cycle. Topping the sports page, though, was John McGraw’s announcement that he was retiring after 30 years’ managing the New York Giants.

Griffey’s leaving the game deserved the same attention. He passed the home-run baton to a former teammate who last year finally achieved what always eluded Griffey, a World Series championship. A-Rod remembered Junior fondly.

“I came in at 17, right out of high school, and I got to see our Michael Jordan, our Tiger Woods, the best of the best,” Rodriguez said.

If you don’t believe that, get out tapes of that 1995 ALDS, the one in which Griffey punished the Yankees with a .391 average, five home runs, seven RBI and that mad dash home in the clincher. You will not see his like again.

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