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Press Row: A-Rod earns his stripes
10/07/2004 11:18 AM ET
Two hundred fifty million can buy a lot of things. Or one baseball player.

Alex Rodriguez had yet to prove to Yankees fans that he was worth his hefty price tag before this American League Division Series against the Twins. With a .248 batting average with runners in scoring position this season, he had developed a reputation for not being able to hit in the clutch.

And so the question arose, how would A-Rod respond in the playoffs on the grand stage of Yankee Stadium?

He answered that question in Game 2 on Wednesday night, going 4-for-6 with three RBIs, two runs scored and the game-tying, ground-rule double in the bottom of the 12th.

It was a performance that had Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News believing A-Rod had finally earned his pinstripes:

"Suddenly, after everything that had happened over four hours, Game 2 was turning back toward Alex Rodriguez. He seemed to have won Game 2 a couple of times already, with his first postseason home run as a Yankee, then the RBI single that made it 5-3.

"Only the Twins came back. Now the Yankees were coming back, and this night, another one of those Stadium nights, was coming back to him.

"His first great night as a Yankee, whatever he says. This is how you earn your stripes. Pinstripes. He has to know.

"'This was a special game for us,' was all Rodriguez would say.

"This was what he had come to New York for, games like this, a chance to show what he can do when it is all on the line. When he was asked to deliver the way Derek Jeter always had.

"Rodriguez had lost to the Yankees in the playoffs when he was with the Mariners. Then he had watched Jeter and the rest of them from last place. Now here was one more chance to join the party.

"Win a game like this."

It was a game that had Joel Sherman of the New York Post feeling like he was watching the famous "Seinfeld" episode where nothing is as it seems:

"Welcome to the Bizarro World in which the Yanks cannot trust their offense, Tom Gordon or Mariano Rivera, and must rely instead on their starting rotation, Tanyon Sturtze and Alex Rodriguez in the clutch.

"Up is down, down is up and the Yankees are even. Everything you think you knew over 162 games about the Yankees is now worth as much as Confederate money.

"Jon Lieber pitched a game worthy of Andy Pettitte last night, A-Rod channeled Reggie Jackson and Sturtze had more Mo-jo than Mo Rivera. This was strictly ad-lib, beyond preordained script.

"Get me re-write, the Yanks are tied 1-1 in this Division Series because of stuff we just could not see coming."

Ron Gardenhire didn't see it coming. The Twins manager thought leaving his reliable closer, Joe Nathan, in the game for a third inning in the 12th would allow his team to preserve its 6-5 lead and head back to the Metrodome with a 2-0 series lead.

But Nathan couldn't deliver because, as Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press points out, he wasn't used to such a heavy workload:

"The manager kept asking him, 'Are you OK? Are you all right?'

"Even if Joe Nathan's right arm were hanging by a thread, he was going to answer, 'Yes, I'm fine.' There was no way he was going to say he was tired or drained or unable to go back out to the mound.

"Ron Gardenhire wanted him to pitch a third inning of relief. Nathan hadn't done that all year.

"As a closer, he rarely pitches two innings, never mind three. But he gave the answer everyone wanted to hear: 'I'm good. I'm OK. I can do it.'

"And so he was sent out to do the impossible against that wicked Yankees lineup. He followed the ballplayers' code and said he was able to go out and do something he had never done before."

While the debate on whether Gardenhire was right to push his closer to the limit rages on, this series will head to Minneapolis, where the Twins will try to use their home-field advantage to pull off an upset.

Despite the big win by the Yankees in Game 2, Harvey Araton of The New York Times thinks the Bronx Bombers have reason to be concerned about the weekend ahead:

"Consider Joe Torre's options for Games 3 and 4, Kevin Brown and most likely Javier Vazquez, and you can understand why Wednesday night's rally may yet be remembered as no more than a reprieve.

"Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire affirmed yesterday that Johan Santana, who shut the Yankees down in Game 1, would pitch Game 4 on Saturday as long as his arm responds to three days' rest. In that case, the burden falls on Brown to keep the Yankees from having to face baseball's hottest pitcher in a potential elimination game, on the dome turf that enhances the Twins' speed game."

For now, though, Araton says the Yankees can at least rest a little easier, knowing A-Rod is ready to deliver in the clutch:

"All season long, Rodriguez has waited for this moment, as much as the city has waited on him. Silly him. Silly us. Everyone should have known that on this team, in this town, such memories can be made only in October."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.