The numbers, so far, are staggering.
Five home runs, 11 RBIs, a .407 average and a slugging percentage of 1.000 – that’s right – for Alex Rodriguez through seven games in the part of the season in which he is supposed to shrivel up and blow away like the leaves falling off trees.
By any yardstick, A-Rod has had a fabulous postseason, and there is no player more responsible, not even CC Sabathia, for why the Yankees are poised to eliminate the Los Angeles Angels Thursday night and advance to their first World Series in six years.
But there was only one Mr. October on the field at Angel Stadium Wednesday and he wasn’t wearing a Yankees uniform. In fact, he wasn’t even wearing a credential, which is why Reggie Jackson, who has exclusive lifelong rights to the most famous nickname in sports, was being asked to leave the field by a retired gentleman in a straw hat and a vest.
“You got to have a credential,” the man, whose name tag identified him as Hank, said.
“But he’s Reggie Jackson,” a bystander said.
“He’s got to have a credential,” the man repeated.
Jackson just walked away. Mr. October doesn’t wear his credentials around his neck. They are recorded in a record book and etched into the memory, and no matter what Rodriguez does Thursday night, there they will stay for at least another 10 days.
Three pitchers, three pitches, three swings, three majestic home runs. And they came in a World Series game, but not just any World Series game, but Game 6 of the 1977 Series, the one that ushered in a new era of Yankees dominance.
Match that, A-Rod.
Compared to Jackson at 62, everything about Rodriguez appears outsized. He is bigger than Jackson, heavier, his paycheck ridiculously bloated and his numbers inflated. In June, he passed Jackson on the all-time home run list, and at 33 already has hit 20 more home runs than Jackson retired with at 41.
And yet, when it comes to October accomplishment, there is no comparison between the players, no matter how badly A-Rod mashes the Twins and Angels.
“For people to say he’s the next [Mr.] October, or he’s doing it like Mr. October, dude, I’m happy, it’s a compliment to me,” Jackson said. “If someone thinks that I’ve done that much and I’ve got the nickname, then great. Outperform it. Please. I’m on your team.”
Jackson, a special adviser to the Yankees who eventually did gain access to the field during their off-day workout, knows that is easier said than done.
It is obvious A-Rod is “locked in,” the most dangerous hitter in a Yankees lineup that is packed with mashers, and he is doing it without the help of an effective No. 3 hitter, because Mark Teixeira is hitting .111 for the ALCS and .133 for the postseason.
“I’m not a psychologist, man, so I don’t know what he’s thinking, but he just seems comfortable out there,” Derek Jeter said. “And I don’t want to know. Just leave him alone and let him do what he’s been doing.”
But there’s a significant difference between early-round performance and World Series immortality, as wide a gap as there is between, say Jackson in the 1977 World Series and Carlos Beltran in the 2004 playoffs. “He hit like eight home runs?” Jackson asked. “But did he get to the World Series? Never got there. Made $100 million, though.”
And in the seventh game of the NLCS that year, Beltran went 0-for-3 with a walk as his team went on to a 5-2 defeat by the St. Louis Cardinals.
That’s the difference between being remembered as Mr. October or as the guy who let a called third strike go by with the bases loaded to end an NLCS, as Beltran the Met did in 2006.
Postseason glory is fleeting, and who will remember Rodriguez’s early-round heroics if he hits a Teixeira-like dry spell next week while his team, coincidentally or not, bombs out in the World Series?
“What Alex is doing is kind of what we all hoped he could do for years,” Jackson said. “It’s as good as anyone has ever played in the postseason. But it’s the World Series that everybody looks at. It’ll be a tough act to maintain.”
The real Mr. October knows what his would-be successor is only about to discover – that for Alex Rodriguez, the real October hasn’t even started yet.