NEW YORK (Reuters) - Robinson Cano may not be the best-known or highest-paid player on the New York Yankees but he could turn out to be their most valuable if they succeed in defending their World Series title.
While the team’s big-name players have struggled to produce their best in the playoffs, Cano has been a revelation, pounding four home runs in the American League Championship Series against the Texas Rangers.
Only a handful of Yankees have hit four or more home runs in a single playoff series and Cano now finds himself in good company, alongside Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson and Hank Bauer.
”It’s as good as it gets,“ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ”Robbie has been big in our lineup all year and he has been big in the post-season.
“He’s swung the bat extremely well and it just seems like he’s getting the barrel of the bat to the ball all the time.”
While Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter may get most of the attention and the money, it is little surprise that Cano has emerged as their leading batter in the playoffs.
The 27-year-old second baseman has had a standout season for the pinstripers and is one of the favorites to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award.
Ironically, his biggest threat is Texas slugger Josh Hamilton, who has also hit four homers in the AL championship.
“They are two pretty good players,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “Cano hits the ball as hard as anyone and this guy (Hamilton) just drives line drives out of the ballpark.”
Cano was bred to play baseball. His father played six games with the Houston Astros in 1980 and named his son after Jackie Robinson.
Taught to play the game in the Dominican Republic where he was born and raised, Cano was signed by the Yankees in 2001 as an amateur free agent.
After almost being traded despite showing great potential in the minor leagues, he made his Major League debut in 2005 and proved an instant hit.
The following season, he was named to the AL All-Star team and the Yankees responded by offering him an extended contract worth $30 million over four years to the end of 2011.
They also included an option to retain him for $14 million in 2012 and $15 million in 2013.
Cano won his first World Series with the Yankees last year and was named an All-Star for the second time this season.
He slammed his fourth home run against the Rangers in the fifth game of their series at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, a 7-2 victory by New York.
Texas leads 3-2 with the final two games at home but may have to find a way to stop Cano if they want to make their first World Series appearance.
”I don’t look at my stats right now or how I‘m doing,“ he said. ”I just go out there and try to win the game.
“We know what it feels like to go to the World Series and win a championship and now we want to go back again.”
Editing by Steve Ginsburg