Tigers hope night off will ignite Pudge
Limited by nagging injuries, backstop is hitless in World Series
ST. LOUIS -- Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez may need a break, but no one still playing by this time of year, including Rodriguez, wished Wednesday's game to be washed away by Mother Nature. A steady rain soaked Busch Stadium prior to Game 4, giving the Tigers and the Cardinals the night off at a most unwelcomed time.
Still, for Rodriguez, the rainout certainly didn't hurt. He's suffering through an ill-timed slump, and while he could probably use a day off, this is no time for manager Jim Leyland to be coddling the very players who got the team this far to begin with.
Rodriguez had been in Wednesday's lineup, batting sixth. Game 4 represented an opportunity for Rodriguez to end a maddening slump that stood at 0-for-11 in the World Series, and 0-for-23 overall. He hasn't had a hit since Oct. 10, when he singled in the seventh inning during Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Banged up? Minor aches and pains? Pressing? It's probably a little bit of all three.
"I think he's just pressing and trying too hard," Leyland said. "He wants it so bad. I think the best way I could put it is that so far, Kenny Rogers' adrenaline has worked for him and Pudge's has probably worked against him. I think mentally, he's pressed to the point where it's gotten the best of him so far."
Rodriguez's hitless streak is the second-longest in a single postseason, matching Kelly Gruber's 0-for-23 for Toronto in 1992.
Rodriguez is also fighting what Leyland characterized as a "little problem" with his hip and back. Leyland said if he felt Rodriguez's injuries were preventing him from performing at full strength, he would consider resting his catcher. But after checking with him, Leyland kept him in the lineup.
"I think that to me, I think when you've got a player with the history and career of Pudge Rodriguez, that if he's healthy -- and I'm not totally sure he's going to be a hundred percent tonight -- so that's the one that may not be etched in stone, but I think you play him," Leyland said.
Even with a day of rest because of the rainout, a little extra downtime is still not going to remedy nagging injuries and late-season fatigue. As much as he defied the expectations of age as he approaches his 35th birthday next month, part of trying to do too much is naturally trying to do what came easily as a younger player. He has successfully changed his game in the last couple years, but even that has its limits.
"Pudge can't do all the same things he once did," Leyland said. "He's older. He's played a lot. He's caught a lot of games. He's still a [heckuva] player, but can he do the same things that he did when he was 25? No, he can't. That's just the way it is.
"And there's nothing wrong with that. All we need him to do is contribute. Don't try to do too much. There was a point where Pudge could carry you. He could carry a team. He's probably not capable of that anymore. I don't think that's an unfair statement, and that's certainly not a criticism. I'm one of his biggest fans."
After the game was officially called, Rodriguez refused to use injuries or fatigue as an excuse.
"I'm fine," he said. "I'm doing good. I have to see the ball and swing. If I do that, I'm going to hit the ball well."
Rodriguez was gracious while fielding inquiries from reporters after the postponement, but he was clearly not in the mood to wax poetic on his recent hitting issues. His manager probably put it best when he surmised that the severity of the nagging injuries is somewhat related -- mentally, at least -- to a player's performance.
"I think if you're 7-for-12, they're easier to live through," Leyland said. "If you're 0-for-12, they hurt a little more. I don't mean that sarcastically, that's just the way it is.
"He's fighting and trying to do too much. He's down on himself. And we're going to try to perk him up tonight to get him to relax and hopefully have a good performance. By no means was I being sarcastic about it. That's the way it is. It's easier to come to the clubhouse when you're hitting .320 than it is when you're hitting .220, and that's the way it is for all players."