Cano reaches new heights but isn't satisfied
Wins, not personal stats, matter most to second baseman now
ARLINGTON -- The overwhelming evidence that Robinson Cano has done as much as anyone to fuel the Yankees' charge back to the diamond at Rangers Ballpark was met with an underwhelmed shrug by the young second baseman.
Cano may be the only one not satisfied by his performance in a historically strong postseason by any standards, an outstanding showing thus far in franchise history. But that is Cano's inner Yankee on display -- his team is still down, and if they can't get to the World Series, all those hits will have been for naught.
"I feel good, but I would say not good enough, because we're not on top," Cano said. "That tells you I'm not doing enough to win the games. What matters right now is just winning games."
It's difficult to imagine him doing more. Cano has scorched Twins and Rangers pitching this postseason to the tune of a .387 batting average (12-for-31), including a .421 mark in 19 American League Championship Series at-bats to this point.
With a third-inning homer in Game 5 of the ALCS, Cano became just one of five Yankees to hit as many as four home runs in a single postseason series, joining Reggie Jackson (1977), Hank Bauer (1958), Lou Gehrig (1928) and Babe Ruth (1926).
He owns what would be the Yankees' second-highest slugging percentage in LCS history at 1.105, second only to Darryl Strawberry's 1.167 mark from the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles. His 1.555 OPS is just behind Strawberry's 1.667 mark and slightly edges Bernie Williams' 1.531 showing from '96.
"This isn't the first year Robbie has done well," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "He's hit better than he has this year -- he had a few more home runs this year, but it's really nothing new. He's just getting more attention now."
You can be sure Cano's hot bat will be given its due on Friday, when Rangers starter Colby Lewis goes over his plan of attack for the Yankees' lineup. With Cano moved up to the No. 3 spot in Mark Teixeira's absence, Lewis is guaranteed he'll have to handle the Cano problem earlier than last time.
"You make better pitches -- that's basically it," Lewis said. "You try to make your pitch and hopefully he mis-hits it somehow. That's all you can do, because when a guy is locked in like that, if you do make a little mistake, he takes advantage of it, for sure."
As Jeter pointed out, Cano has played starring roles for the Yankees before, hitting a career-high .342 in 2006. But this was a season the Yankees were counting on a breakout campaign from the 27-year-old, entrusting him with the No. 5 spot in the lineup out of Spring Training and believing that this would be the season Cano jumped to new levels.
"We all knew he was going to hit in the middle of the lineup," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said. "We all knew he was going to win batting titles here and there. But turning into an MVP player the way he has done it, putting him in that fifth spot from the get-go, has made him the player he is.
"He really is a special kid. He's a [potential] Gold Glove winner, and he has been able to take on that challenge and made it what everybody is talking about. He is that good."
Posada said a major jump forward for Cano has come with simply learning the pitchers in the league, further realizing what AL pitching staffs are trying to do to neutralize him and making adjustments in the middle of at-bats. Cano's comfort makes him all the more frightening.
"He's hitting everything," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He's hitting breaking balls, balls down and away, hitting balls up. He's just a tremendous hitter. We all have weaknesses, and he has a weakness. We just have to make sure we stay there. But if you don't, good hitters get you. He's a good hitter and when we left pitches out over the plate, he doesn't miss."
Jeter said the improvement he has seen in Cano since his double-play partner broke in as a rookie in 2005 has been remarkable.
"He enjoys playing the game," Jeter said. "He's gotten better, but just because you've gotten better doesn't mean you're going to put up better numbers. I think he's a much better player now than he was a few years back. He understands the game more. He pays more attention to details, he has an approach and he tries to stick with it."
And it has taken him this far, two wins away from what would be his second World Series. One fun subplot of the ALCS has been watching Cano and Texas' Josh Hamilton go head to head, greeted in their home parks with chants of "MVP!" and each owning performances that can back up those fans' claims.
"Everybody in the league would want to have a guy like that on their team," the Yankees' Curtis Granderson said. "It's great that we have [Cano], and it's great that he's doing the things he's able to do. He's got one of the most dangerous bats in the game."
Any ballots cast for both players were in at the end of the regular season, so no ALCS or World Series heroics can change the identity of the eventual award winner. But it sure is fun to watch them both try.
"I don't let that go into my mind," Cano said. "Those are things that maybe next season tell me to keep working harder. Everything I can do, I want to do this year.
"I would say I'm a little more mature now. I'm not trying to do too much. I'm trying to help the team win a game -- get a hit, get on base. Either way, I just want to help the team win a game."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.