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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / AMERICAN LEAGUE

Rodriguez Is OK With Lineup Move

New York Yankees star says that being dropped to sixth in the batting order for playoff series against Detroit `doesn't make a difference.'

October 03, 2006|Jim Baumbach | Newsday

NEW YORK — Manager Joe Torre did not waste any time to deliver the startling news to his New York Yankees on Monday that Alex Rodriguez, once referred to as the game's best player, will be their sixth hitter.

Standing in the clubhouse during their scouting meeting, Torre read out loud his lineup for tonight's Game 1 of a best-of-five American League division series against the Detroit Tigers.

Surely there were raised eyebrows when Gary Sheffield was listed as the cleanup hitter, and many more when the name of the game's highest-paid player wasn't listed until the sixth spot.

After Torre was finished with the lineup, he said he took the paper he had in his hand and rotated it a few times to illustrate how this was just one of the many ways they could have lined up.

"I said, 'I can hold it this way, this way, this way, and it doesn't bother me,' " he said. "But you have to put them in order."

Torre re-enacted the same scene a few hours later on the podium in the Yankee Stadium interview room, trying his best to explain that there was no greater reason for making the switch.

Rodriguez insisted he was neither surprised by the move -- he said Torre privately told him before announcing it -- nor bothered by it.

"It doesn't make a difference," Rodriguez said.

Asked why he wasn't perturbed by it after mostly hitting fourth and fifth this season, Rodriguez pointed to Robinson Cano batting ninth despite a .342 average, third best in the league.

"Robbie, for 95% of teams, would be hitting third," Rodriguez said. "It doesn't matter how you draw it up."

But, obviously, Torre and his coaches didn't simply pull the names of players out of a hat, which raises the question of just why exactly did he decide to drop Rodriguez to sixth.

As much as it's a testament to how stacked the Yankees' lineup is entering the postseason with an eye on their first World Series title in six years, it's also the latest sign of Rodriguez's rough year.

The bottom-out moments were the boos at home that never seemed to stop and the August slump that prompted Jason Giambi to tell Torre that it was time to take a different approach with Rodriguez.

And now this, having to begin his third postseason in New York batting sixth, which the Elias Sports Bureau said is the first time he will be lower than fifth since May 7, 1996. He hit eighth that day for the Seattle Mariners, and he wasn't yet old enough to drink a beer legally.

This latest development isn't surprising in the sense that it has been hard for Rodriguez to avoid the spotlight as a Yankee.

"That never changes," he said. "I'm just going to go out and do my best."

For his sake, hopefully it's better than against the Angels in a division series last year, when he was two for 15 with no runs batted in and said he had "played like a dog."

Will batting sixth take the pressure off him?

"I'll tell you after the series is over," he said.

At least one of his teammates said he believes it will.

"The bottom line is this puts Alex in a position where it lets him know he doesn't have to carry the team, and rightfully so," Sheffield said. "He shouldn't have to carry all the burden. That's not his responsibility."

Sheffield is the obvious beneficiary of the change. He went from sitting out four months because of a left-wrist surgery to the team's first baseman (a new position) and cleanup hitter in the postseason.

But don't act like this is something Sheffield should be surprised about. At one point Monday he grew half-amused, half-bothered by the questions about his stunning turnaround. "You're talking to me like I'm some castoff," he said. "I've done a lot of things in this game. Don't forget who you're talking to, brother."

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