Gap between expectation and reality too much for Alfonso Soriano


Alfonso Soriano swings at a pitch.
Alfonso Soriano went hitless in five at-bats in his return to New York. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

I’ll never forget the first time I took note of Alfonso Soriano. I was vacationing in Mexico with my wife late in 2001. Thanks to some unbelievably bad closing by Byung-Hyun  Kim, the World Series had gone to seven games that year. I remember watching the game while sitting at an outdoor restaurant, having already knocked back several margaritas that night, when I saw Soriano take Curt Schilling deep in the top of the eighth inning. Soriano raised his fist as he came around first base, and held it aloft for most of the way down to second base, too.

Damn Yankees, I thought to myself as we settled the bill and headed back to our resort. And the hero this time was a rookie! How can he ever top this one? How many more Series wins was this guy going to have over the course of his career? He’d  certainly get enough rings to cover the fingers on one of his hands, and maybe work his way through the other hand, as well.

But it was not to be for Alfonso Soriano. His heroics were undone by Mark Grace, Tony Womack, and a rare Mariano Rivera implosion in the bottom of the ninth. I watched this in utter disbelief, while the moonlight illuminated Tangolunda Bay outside our window. The Yankees made it back to the Series in 2003 and lost to the Marlins, and by the time they won it again in 2009, Soriano was gone. This might-have-been hero is still looking for a ring, all these years later.

When Alfonso Soriano came to Chicago in 2007, he had the longest and most lucrative contract the Cubs may ever award a player. Jim Hendry shot the works after the 2006 season ended, bringing in Soriano, Lou Piniella, Ted Lilly and others who were supposed to takes us all to the World Series, at long last.

It started out well, too, when Soriano and company won a division title back in 2007. With “Sori” batting leadoff, and Lou at the controls, it felt like things were finally going to go our way. As Ryan Theriot famously predicted, “It’s gonna happen.”

But the playoffs turned out to be a nightmare for Soriano. I’m not usually given to looking at triple slash lines, but Soriano’s for the 2007 NLDS — against the Diamondbacks, ironically enough — is positively sickening: .143/.200/.143. You have to suck pretty bad to have those numbers, and sucking bad is exactly what Soriano did: 2-for-14 at the plate, one walk, no extra base hits, no runs scored, no RBI, no stolen bases, no nothing at all.

With game one of that series tied, and Soriano leading off the top of the seventh inning that evening, it was the time for a new generation of Cubs heroes to be made, or not. Guess which one it was? And again, when Soriano came to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning, he represented the tying run, if he could once again drive a home run through the Arizona evening. But there was no magic left in his bat, and no Curt Schilling on the mound, either. The Cubs went down to defeat, setting up a pattern for the remainder of his time in Chicago, particularly in the playoffs.

The next season, in 2008, the Cubs stormed the National League and established themselves as the favorites to finally Go All The Way. But again, Soriano failed in the all-important leadoff role. If you though 2007 was bad, the 2008 NLDS against the Dodgers was even worse than that: .071/.071/.071. If the symmetry is hard to believe, the zeros in front of all three metrics is nearly impossible to achieve, at least for an established player.

Again, Soriano recorded no extra base hits, no runs scored, nothing to suggest any value was added to the team that paid him so handsomely.  And that one lonely walk in 2007 left little room for regression, but Soriano managed to do exactly that by failing to draw a single walk. A bigger post-season bust can hardly be envisioned.

The Soriano era came to an end in Chicago on Friday. He’s back in New York now, where he went o-for-5 in his first game back in pinstripes. While he’s never going to say so publicly, he’s likely very glad to be out of Chicago. Some people respected his effort, his leadership and his love for the game. I admire all of those qualities, and by those measures I should be sad to see him go. But six playoff games — and 29 plate appearances with hardly anything at all to show for them — are enough for me to say goodbye without the slightest tinge of regret.

Maybe I’ll see Alfonso Soriano circling the bases in triumph again someday. And if I should happen to be in Mexico, I’ll jump up and cheer as loudly as I can this time. But like that moonlit night on Tangolunda Bay, I think we’ll never see such things again.

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