It's funny sometimes the things that end up mattering in the longer term. I remember one time, years ago, when I was still in high school, I was standing in line at a Starbucks. I wasn't yet someone who was drinking straight coffee, but I was someone who had recently started drinking Frappuccinos, so that was my gateway drug. It was an ordinary line, a line like any other line, but all of a sudden in this particular line the person in front of me elected to turn around and strike up a conversation. I never got the man's name, but he was a man, a man probably in his 30s, and for the few minutes before he reached the front of the line, we talked about the weather, and the Padres, and a car that drove by. Afterward I didn't really give the conversation a second thought, because it was just a conversation with some stranger and I had a Frappuccino in my hands. Little did I know then that I would be re-telling this pointless go-nowhere story one day at the beginning of a blog post about baseball I was writing for my job.
A short while ago, at FanGraphs, I finished writing about the current state of Alex Rodriguez. By the time you read this, the current state of Alex Rodriguez might be "inactive", as the Yankees are presently trailing the Tigers 6-0 in Game 4 of a series in which they're trailing the Tigers 3-0. But then, inactive wouldn't be much of a downgrade from what Rodriguez's state has been lately. Joe Girardi has taken to benching Alex Rodriguez in favor of Eric Chavez, with the Tigers starting all righties. The media noticed. It's been kind of a story.
In my post, I argued that this is a pretty easily justifiable decision, names and meanings of those names be damned. Chavez is a lefty with big platoon splits, and Rodriguez is a righty who's struggled against righties, especially since returning from a fractured hand at the beginning of September. Rodriguez was hurt in late July, and before that, he'd been fairly productive. He hasn't looked like the same guy since coming back, and while we can't prove a causative relationship with the injury, it does fit as a sensible potential explanation.
Rodriguez, since returning, has had all sorts of trouble making contact, particularly against same-handed pitchers. When he's played, his postseason numbers have been poor. It doesn't take much of a leap to draw a relationship between a recently-injured hand and altered swing mechanics or diminished bat speed. Suffice to say the Yankees would've been in better postseason shape with a better Alex Rodriguez than with the Alex Rodriguez they've had instead. And in case you'd forgotten, the guy responsible for Alex Rodriguez's injury is Felix Hernandez.
This happened on July 24.
I'm not celebrating that Felix drilled and injured Alex Rodriguez. I never root for beanballs and injuries, and I don't even really have anything against Alex Rodriguez. I mean, I don't think that we would make great friends, but I can't bring myself to loathe a familiar stranger. He's just a guy who plays a sport that I watch, and like a lot of guys, he used to play for my favorite team. But, okay, you know how Felix nearly has his head taken off by a line-drive comebacker once every game? You know how many times he's narrowly avoided a completely shattered set of bones? Let's remain in that game on July 24, and rewind to the top of the second inning.
So the Yankees wanted to fuck with Felix, did they? Here are the last five batters that Felix faced before getting pulled in the top of the eighth. He was pulled with a lead, and the Mariners won.
- Ichiro HBP
- Stewart grounds out
- Jeter HBP
- Granderson strikes out
- Rodriguez HBP
Within the span of 17 pitches and five batters, Felix drilled a trio of eventual Hall-of-Famers. While I can't begin to know how to check, something like that might never have been done throughout baseball history. And while Ichiro was fine, and Jeter was fine, Rodriguez was not fine. Rodriguez missed the next several weeks, and it seems even today, Rodriguez isn't back to being himself, whatever "himself" might these days refer to. A Yankee tried to turn Felix into a dartboard. So Felix turned the Yankees' lineup into a dartboard.
It looks like the Yankees are going to be swept out of the playoffs. That team finished with the best record in the American League, and had the highest expectations. The Yankees aren't about to be swept because of Felix Hernandez. But one could argue that Felix didn't not have anything to do with it. Just because Felix has never pitched in the playoffs doesn't mean he's never made a difference in the playoffs.