A-Rod named baseball's most clutch
Yankees slugger claims inaugural award presented by Pepsi
NEW YORK -- The Yankees' year might have been an early loss if not for Alex Rodriguez's heroics. Time and time again, he came through with success in tight situations, helping to lead the club into the postseason.
For his efforts in what will be remembered as a remarkable individual season worthy of praise, Rodriguez has been selected as the inaugural recipient of the 2007 Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Year, presented by Pepsi.
The officially sanctioned Major League Baseball award recognizes the player who performed his best when the game was on the line, and was revealed during a one-hour special, produced by Major League Baseball Productions, on ESPN on Wednesday.
Off to a disappointing 21-29 start despite Rodriguez's exceptional opening act, the Yankees had a large hole to dig out of if they wanted to keep their streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances intact.
The 32-year-old Rodriguez had a major hand in helping them do so, leading all of baseball with 143 runs scored, 54 home runs, 156 RBIs, and a .645 slugging percentage.
"It's a year I'm proud of, just because the guys battled hard all year," Rodriguez said recently. "It's been the toughest year trying to get to the postseason, that's for sure. Many people kind of doubted us, and it's weird for us to be able to overcome such adversity. Personally, I feel good about the year."
No batter in the Major Leagues hit more home runs to tie the game or put his team ahead, situations in which Rodriguez went deep 22 times. Philadelphia's Ryan Howard and Houston's Lance Berkman tied Rodriguez in that category.
Rodriguez's success in the late innings certainly helped his case, showing a great improvement over his performances in 2006. Rodriguez batted .463 (19-for-41) with eight home runs and 21 RBIs in the ninth innings of games this year, compared with .143 (5-for-35) with three home runs and five RBIs last season.
"I realized that I'm going to let my baseball do the talking," Rodriguez said.
One of Rodriguez's most memorable moments -- and a tell-tale sign that this year had earmarks of being different for him -- came April 7, during the Yankees' first homestand, as A-Rod stepped in against Baltimore reliever Chris Ray.
Having already hit a two-run homer earlier in the game, Rodriguez belted an offering into the black beyond center field for a game-winning, walk-off grand slam, lifting the Yankees to a 10-7 victory and playing out a stretch in which he hit six home runs and collected 15 RBIs in the first seven games of the season.
"It felt awesome," Rodriguez said then. "I was so excited, I felt like a fool running around the bases, like it was Little League. I just remember I almost knocked [coach Larry] Bowa over at third. I saw the fans rocking behind him. That was kind of cool.
"You relish it. As an athlete, you always want to be in that opportunity."
One of Rodriguez's most dramatic moments also came in the game's most heated rivalry, where he has had trouble in recent years. With the Yankees down to their final strike of the ninth inning June 3 at Boston, Rodriguez turned on a 95 mph Jonathan Papelbon fastball and drilled it high through the raindrops into the Fenway Park night, helping the Yankees to a 6-5 victory over the Red Sox and two out of three games at Boston.
|"He came in and showed everyone why he is the best player in the game."|
|-- Johnny Damon|
With the Yankees driving toward a Wild Card spot and an eventual Division Series matchup with the Cleveland Indians, Rodriguez found another gear. He drove in 111 runs in his final 105 games of the season, averaging one RBI every 3.7 at-bats over the course of the whole campaign -- leading the big leagues with that ratio.
"I think this whole year was just an amazing thing that he did," outfielder Johnny Damon said. "He came in and showed everyone why he is the best player in the game."
When the Yankees needed a boost at home during the regular season, too, Rodriguez was there often. With 26 home runs in the Bronx, Rodriguez equaled his own single-season record -- set during his 2005 AL MVP campaign -- for homers hit by a right-handed batter at Yankee Stadium.
"Definitely, he helped us a lot," second baseman Robinson Cano said. "He helped so much, I can't tell you about it, especially when we were struggling in the beginning. He got those walk-off home runs and those comeback games. That's something that you've got to appreciate looking at them now."
The 2007 MLB Clutch Performer of the Year Presented by Pepsi winner was selected by the fans from a list of six nominees chosen by a special editorial panel from MLB Advanced Media and Major League Baseball Productions. From Oct. 5 through Oct. 19, Major League Baseball fans voted for the award on pepsiclutch.mlb.com, a site powered by MLB.com, the official Web site of Major League Baseball, and created specifically for the MLB Clutch Performer Platform.
To further engage fans in the selection process, Pepsi introduced an online sweepstakes in conjunction with the award. As part of the program, Pepsi, the official soft drink of Major League Baseball, fans were entered to win a trip to the 2008 All-Star Game by voting for the 2007 MLB Clutch Performer of the Year.
Previous monthly winners of the MLB Pepsi Clutch Performer of the Month awards include: Rodriguez (April); Ken Griffey Jr. (May); Chone Figgins (June); Aramis Ramirez (July); Andy Pettitte (August); and Alfonso Soriano (September).
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.