Robinson Cano probably won't win the vote to be named the American League's Most Valuable Player, his impressive season overshadowed slightly by the accomplishments of Texas' Josh Hamilton.
But if the Yankees complete their unlikely AL Championship Series comeback with victories tonight and Saturday in Texas, Cano could end up with some decent consolation prizes — a berth in the World Series at the expense of Hamilton's Rangers and the ALCS MVP for the role he played in getting them there.
Cano is hitting .421 for the series (after .333 in the division series and .319 for the season), and his four home runs in an ALCS put him in rare company — joining nine others, including Hamilton and the Rays' Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton.
"It's as good as it gets," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Robby has been big in our lineup all season, and he has been big this postseason. It just seems like he's getting the barrel of the bat to the ball all the time."
The Yankees need Cano — who also plays dazzling defense at second base — more now than ever as he moved into the No. 3 slot following the Game 4 injury to Mark Teixeira.
But having taken over the fifth spot at the start of this season (after hitting sixth and seventh most of last year) to replace free agent Hideki Matsui and filling in for injured cleanup man Alex Rodriguez 26 times, the promotion was relatively obvious.
"He should be hitting third," replacement first baseman Lance Berkman said. "He's the best hitter we've got."
Cano, who turns 28 today, welcomes the opportunity.
"It's a big responsibility for me right now, and it was the same way during the season," he said. "Batting first, second, anywhere in this lineup, you have to produce."
Cano started the season hot and stayed that way much of the year, finishing with 200 hits, 29 home runs, 109 RBIs and 103 runs.
And he said he's feeling that way again now.
"I felt like this the first half of this season, but right now, I'm trying to focus more," Cano said. "And the games are so important, especially where we are now. We either win or we go home."
Texas manager Ron Washington called Cano "a difference-maker." And TBS analyst and former big-league pitcher Ron Darling said the difference can be obvious, such as how hard Cano hits the ball.
"With the superstars, the ball comes off their bat different,'' Darling said. "Cano is in that superstar category.''
Given the company Cano keeps on the Yankees infield — Derek Jeter, Rodriguez and Teixeira — stardom can be hard to achieve. But Cano is making a pretty good name for himself — even with a spot in a new Nike TV commercial.
Will there be more fame and glory coming his way? The league MVP award ballots are in, though the winner won't be announced until next month. Each time Cano comes to the plate at Yankee Stadium, the fans make their choice clear, chanting "MVP, MVP."
Girardi tends to agree.
"He's had an outstanding year, and I believe he's the MVP of our league," Girardi said. "Just because if you combine his offense and, I believe, Gold Glove defense and how he impacts the game defensively, I think he's had the best all-around year."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.