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A-Rod Is No Lone Ranger

March 31, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

His numbers are enough to make an opposing pitcher weep. Over the last two seasons, despite playing an extremely demanding position, Texas Ranger shortstop Alex Rodriguez has hit 109 home runs, driven in 277 runs and hit a cumulative .307.

His financial numbers are enough to make Joe Armes, the team's chief financial officer, weep. Rodriguez is in the third year of a 10-year, $252-million contract.

His team's numbers, however, are enough to make Rodriguez weep. After winning the division title in three out of four seasons, the Rangers collapsed in the season before Rodriguez's much-heralded arrival and haven't improved since. In the last three years, they have gone 71-91, which left them 20 1/2 games out of first; 73-89, leaving them 43 games out and 72-90, 31 behind.

So is it difficult to live with such a dichotomy?

"I hope so," Texas pitching coach Orel Hershiser said Sunday night after the Rangers opened the season with new hope by beating the Angels, 6-3, at Edison Field. "He shows it in [the clubhouse] and he shows it on the field. He's always looking to improve, but he also sees the bigger world out there. He's knows this is not just about himself. He's not a selfish ballplayer."

Rodriguez didn't dispute that the standings eat at him sometimes.

"It's frustrating," he said. "But we have great owners and they understand that it takes time. You can't build a mountain overnight. But a move here and a move there and you can become a contender."

In the past, Rodriguez's frustration has come out in shots he has taken at other clubs he has been forced to watch sail past his team into the postseason. He has been quoted as saying the Angels were only the third-best team in the division last season even though they went on to win the World Series, and he has said that the Minnesota Twins, winners of the AL Central, would have finished last in the West.

But Sunday, Rodriguez praised the Angels.

"When you look at the Anaheim Angels," he said, "the whole league marvels at what they did. It kind of gives everyone optimism."

Rodriguez is optimistic about his own season as well even though he says he is only "80 to 85%" because of a herniated disk in his neck that forced him to sit out much of spring training.

He was certainly good enough to continue to torment Angel starter John Lackey. Rodriguez, whose numbers in eight previous openers were also enough to make him weep, went one for five Sunday night, but that one hit was a towering home run.

Coming into Sunday, Rodriguez was .138 on opening day with one home run and one RBI in 29 at-bats.

Rodriguez is now three for eight against Lackey with two home runs.

He now has a .354 career average in Anaheim and his 21 home runs at Edison Field are the most he has hit in any ballpark other than his own.

Also, Sunday's home run was the 299th of Rodriguez's career. At 27 years, 246 days, Rodriguez can become the youngest to reach 300 if he homers again before June 20, thus surpassing the mark of Jimmie Foxx.

"He might be one of the best to ever play the game," Hershiser said.

Awesome numbers and glowing praise. What more could Rodriguez ask for? A winning record might be nice.

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