It’s not exactly news that Rodriguez, who tied Bobby Thigpen’s record of 57 on Thursday, is great.
But the Angels’ anemic hitting is keeping games close and exposing just how much Rodriguez is responsible for Los Angeles having one of the best records in baseball rather than, as its numbers would indicate, being in a dogfight in the AL West.
And yet, an organization that has recently lavished big dollars on Vladimir Guerrero (justified), Gary Mathews Jr. and Garrett Anderson (not so justified) and Torii Hunter (OK so far, but check back when he’s making $18 million at age 38) couldn’t shake the change loose to pay Rodriguez $60 million over four years to keep him from becoming a free agent in 2009. That seems like a lot for someone who appears, at most, one inning per game. But if the Phillies are willing to pay Brad Lidge $12.5 million a year, it’s going to take the Angels more than $15 million a year to have the 26-year-old Rodriguez, the greatest closer of his generation, save Los Angeles from itself.
Ever since Rodriguez burst upon the scene as a hero during the Angels’ 2002 World Series run, he’s been a key part of the team. But this year, he’s indispensable.
The Angels have given up only 616 runs, but they have scored only 681, which translates into a lot of close games. Los Angeles has a 28-20 record in one-run games, which is certainly impressive.
Los Angeles’ bats have been so silent, backup catcher Mike Napoli, not any of the Angels’ four aforementioned outfielders making more than $10 million, led the team in home runs until June 20 — and still is tied for third with 15 home runs.
Guerrero’s offensive numbers across the board would be his worst in a 13-season career, which, to be fair, is as much a tribute to Guerrero’s greatness as it is his slippage. His .299 average so far represents the only season he has batted below .300.
However, Guerrero isn’t alone in falling backward. Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman, Anderson and Matthews all have batting numbers that have fallen from last year. Reggie Willits, who batted .293 as a rookie in 2007, has fallen off the map with a .163 average in only 68 games.
Early-season injuries limited the play of most of the Angels’ infielders save Kotchman — as the six different starters at third base and four at second indicate.
No wonder the Angels are in the AL’s bottom half in just about every offensive category.
Of course, Rodriguez all by himself isn’t overcoming the Angels’ weak bats. Joe Saunders and falling phenom Ervin Santana during spring training were fighting for the fifth starting spot, and ended up becoming Ace One and Ace Two on their way to All-Star status. Even without Kelvim Escobar, out for the year because of shoulder problems, the Angels have as deep a rotation as anyone, with John Lackey, Jon Garland and Jered Weaver. The middle relief is not spectacular, but it’s solid.
Still, Rodriguez is the one who makes sure the Angels stand straight as they walk their tightrope.
Sixty-three times Rodriguez has entered the game with a save on the line. He has blown that opportunity only six times.
Rodriguez has the slider that is becoming the equivalent of Mariano Rivera’s cut fastball, an nearly untraceable, unhittable pitch that has opposing managers hoping for blowout by the late innings so they don't have to see it. Last year, Rodriguez added a changeup, which helps make up for his fastball reportedly losing a mile or two per hour off its usual 94-95.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
There's a good chance the Angels' brain trust will get to imitate Rodriguez's post-save reach for the sky as it watches him close the clinching game of the World Series this year. What it will try not to think about before then is how the Angels are going to have to reach for the sky if they want Rodriguez to keep bailing them out for years to come.
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