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June 29, 2006

Shut Up Forever
by Larry Mahnken

Hideki Matsui never did it. Gary Sheffield has never done it. Bernie Williams has never done it.

Jorge Posada has done it twice, including once earlier this season. Jason Giambi, well, we all remember when he did it. Ken Griffey, Jr. didn't do it until this May.

Derek Jeter has never done it.

Yesterday, Alex Rodriguez did it, hitting a walkoff home run to erase a 3-2 deficit and give the Yankees an InstaVictory, 4-3. Such a home run is much rarer than you think, in A-Rod's first two seasons as a Yankee it only happened 22 times in the majors -- less than once every 220 games. And yesterday was A-Rod's first time.

In fact, not only was it's A-Rod's first deficit-erasing-walkoff-homer, it was also the very first hit he's ever had as Yankee that turned a deficit into a lead in the seventh inning or later. That's right, even though those kind of hits aren't that common, either, the closest A-Rod has ever come to turning a late deficit into a lead with the Yankees was when Shannon Stewart let his double bounce into the stands to keep Derek Jeter at third base in the 2004 ALDS.

If you really think about it, this wasn't just a clutch hit -- of course it's not, A-Rod's had LOTS of clutch hits, people just act like he hasn't -- but it was THE most clutch hit possible. A hard hit ball to a corner infielder or a grounder up the middle, and the Yankees would lose, but instead they won, and nothing was left to chance. A-Rod didn't even need to run to first to see if it would hit off the wall, that ball was gone the moment he hit it.

This is bigger than a slump-busting homer, and it's bigger than a data point on my spreadsheets that probably won't convince anyone who already thinks they'd have been better off with Soriano. This is the argument-ender -- not for rational argument, which would probably have to conclude that Rodriguez is, at worst, average in the clutch -- but for the sports call-in show types, who like to ignore the double off of Nathan, and the homer off of Schilling, or the ninth-inning tying homer off of Wickman last year. This was supremely clutch. Who cares what team it was against, or what pitcher it was off of? You didn't hear that bullshit when Jeter hit his Opening Day homer off of Ambiorix Burgos of the freaking Royals.

When it comes to clutchness, A-Rod isn't Ortiz. But then, here is a complete list of players who have been as good or better than in the clutch as David Ortiz in the past decade:

1) David Ortiz

Comparing A-Rod to Ortiz and declaring him insufficiently clutch because he comes up short is ridiculous, akin to comparing a hitter to Babe Ruth and declaring him insufficient. Ortiz isn't the baseline, he's the peak, which is all well and good, but it doesn't mean much at all when it comes to evaluating A-Rod.

A-Rod became a "True Yankee" yesterday, whatever that means, like Giambi did when he hit his homer against the Twins -- though Giambi was still never loved until he had his fall from grace last year, then recovered to be everything he once was. But at the very least, the next time a writer implies that A-Rod can't come through in the clutch, at least not in New York, you can make them look foolish without having to pull out more than one number.