Ivan Rodriguez is reportedly slated to announce his retirement from baseball today. There will be much written about his impressive career, and much of it will focus on whether or not he will get into the Hall of Fame, even though his numbers pretty obviously warrant it. Personally, I think that sidesteps the issue of how such a great player had not one but two lame nicknames: “Pudge,” which would not be so bad if it had not already been used; and “I-Rod,” which involved the incredibly annoying “first initial-first syllable” lazy nicknaming thing. It makes it hard to give this post a decent title.
Rather than looking at a career overview, let’s focus on a few particular moments: Rodriguez’ three biggest in-game hits according to Win Probability Added (WPA).
3. May 31, 1995. Royals fans probably remember 1995 as the year they realized that Bob Hamelin might not be a true talent .400 wOBA hitter. The 1995 Rangers were a team on the rise, a team still a year away from winning the American League West. Rodriguez, just 23 at this time, would be a big part of that rise, but despite the mediocrity of both teams during the 1995 season, the game featured other impressive talents. The Rangers started Will Clark at first, and the Royals sent a still-in-his-underrated-prime Kevin Appier to the mound. Appier went eight innings, but he was matched by the Rangers’ Bob Tewksbury, who had a complete game. Things fell apart for “Ape” in the eighth. With the Royals leading 2-1, Appier got to two outs. Then Jeff Frye singled. Appier then allowed consecutive walks to Clark and Mickey Tettleon. With the bases loaded, Rodriguez stroked a base-clearing double for .556 WPA that put Texas up for good, 4-2.
2. April 8, 2007. If I had known the Royals were going to be so prominently involved in this post, I might have reconsidered doing it. This is surprisingly (for me) recent… although I guess 2007 was five years ago. It featured a Royals team coming off of its first off-season with Dayton Moore as the general manager — man, that Gil Meche contract is working out surprisingly well, this guy is going to be awesome! On the other side were the Tigers, who were just coming off a surprising run to the World Series, and Ivan Rodriguez was a big part of that. For the Tigers, Magglio Ordonez was starting what was to be the best year of his career by far. The Royals, however, had their own stars, sending Brandon Duckworth to the mound.
I wonder what Ducky is doing right now?
The 2007 season was also notable for being the last time Jeremy Bonderman did anything. He pitched well in this game, striking out 8 over six innings. The Tigers foolishly did not count on Duckworth’s domination, as he matched Bonderman pitch for pitch. Sort of. With the Royals leading 2-0 in the top of the ninth on the strength of a Mark Teahen (~!) home run and RBI single, rookie Rule Five pick Joakim Soria gave way to David Riske. After being unable to get a score all day, the Tigers got a double from Ordonez, a walk from Carlos Guillen, and then a three-run homer from their veteran catcher for .556 WPA and a 3-2 victory.
1. Remember the 2003 playoffs? Yeah, me neither. If there is one play I remember from the Giants-Marlins NLDS, it is the one that ended the series. The Giants had come all the way back from 6-1 deficit to make it 8-6. With two runners on, Jeffrey Hammond singled to right, where the ball was fielded by Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine (there are few things more hilariously appropriate than a dude like Jeff Conine being “Mr. Marlin”). Conine threw home, and J.T. Snow “charged” around the bases, and bowled over Rodriguez, who held onto the ball for the series-ending out. He memorably was still clutching that ball when during the post-game celebrations and interviews. It was a great game.
But since this post is about hits… Rodriguez had also been the hero just the day before in Game Three.. He started the scoring off by hitting a two-run homer off of Kirk Rueter the the bottom of the first. That 2-0 lead lasted until the sixth, when the Giants scraped out a couple of runs. The scoring stopped until extra innings, when San Francisco’s Edgardo Alfonzo singled in a run in the top of the eleventh to put the Marlins’ win expectancy at 9.8%. In came Giants closer Tim Worrell, who managed to load the bases (although he did get an out he on a sacrifice bunt from a baby-faced rookie named Miguel Cabrera). With the bases loaded and one out, the Marlins’ Win Expectancy was actually up over 50%, but Worrell got another out on a fielder’s choice. With two outs and the bases loaded, the Marlins’ WE was down to about 27%. But “Pudge-Rod” came through, singling in two runs for .737 WPA and a huge Marlins win on their road to a shocking World Championship.