A-Rod has everyone on notice with rebirth
Slugger coming alive in the clutch for Yankees in postseason
NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez worked a 3-0 count off one of the best closers in the game, watched a strike zoom by and then found his pitch. It was time for him to falter, right?
Only this is the new A-Rod: Alex Version 2.0. This is an A-Rod who hits in the clutch and does it quite well.
"The fun part is, I was just thinking, 'Base hit -- hit the ball hard somewhere,'" Rodriguez said. "And it went into the seats."
Rodriguez's two-run shot off Joe Nathan in the ninth inning tied Friday's game at 3, allowing the Yankees to eventually win it 4-3 in the 11th on Mark Teixeira's walk-off homer, giving New York a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series over Minnesota. But more than that, it gave the Yankees just another reason to believe that their most fearsome hitter is finally capable of coming through in October.
"He's a tremendous ballplayer, and I would want him in that situation time and time again, because he's going to come through," reliever Phil Coke said. "He's too good not to come through. To have the game he had, for him to be able to come back after the first game and do it all again is huge."
Entering the fifth inning of Wednesday's ALDS Game 1 against the Twins, Rodriguez had been hitless in 19 postseason at-bats with runners in scoring position, dating back to the fateful 2004 AL Championship Series against the Red Sox. But Rodriguez singled in that fifth inning to drive in a run, duplicated his feat in the seventh and then did it once more in the sixth inning on Friday.
Just like that, Rodriguez had three consecutive hits with runners in scoring position -- though all of them paled in comparison to the two-run shot he hit with a runner on base in the ninth inning on Friday.
"I've said all along I think he's in a great place this year," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I really do. He's been huge in the playoffs so far for us."
Big man in the Bronx
There is some precedent here. Barry Bonds hit just .196 with one home run over the first five years of his postseason career, before slamming eight homers and batting .356 in the 2002 postseason alone. Perhaps Rodriguez is in the midst of a similar October rebirth, batting cleanup for a team that has become a favorite to reach the World Series.
"It just felt really good," Rodriguez said of his game-tying home run. "Obviously, we needed it. It's the way we've been playing baseball all year. Nothing has changed for us. From the day we came in Opening Day since I've been here, there's been a lot of magic in there, and everybody has contributed. But for me personally, that was obviously a lot of fun. I enjoyed it."
Talk has ceased regarding Rodriguez's postseason struggles, because those struggles have vanished. Suddenly, he is the man the Yankees want up most in big spots. He has come through four straight times and counting.
The first single, Rodriguez admitted Friday, was an enormous weight off his shoulders. Now, he is simply enjoying them as they come.
"I think it helped," Rodriguez said of his fifth-inning single on Wednesday, the one that started it all. "I think the first hit was one that definitely made me feel like I checked in and started contributing a little bit."
A little? Try a lot.
"He's come up big for us so far this postseason," outfielder Johnny Damon said, "and I'm sure there are going to be other great moments."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.