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A-Rod breaks out big in Game 210/07/2004 3:00 AM ET
By Gary Washburn / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Until the bottom of the 12th inning, it appeared as if Alex Rodriguez's first breakout postseason game as a Yankee would be overshadowed by an anchor-like 2-0 deficit.
The Yankees were trailing, 6-5, entering the bottom of the 12th and facing impeccable closer Joe Nathan. But that scenario just generated another opportunity for Rodriguez to produce in the clutch.
Nathan had thrown two dominant innings, but Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire was asking his gifted right-hander to enter uncharted territory and pitch three innings. The velocity was there, but the command was gone. Ahead one run, he walked Miguel Cairo and Derek Jeter with one out, bringing up A-Rod.
Rodriguez admitted he looked pretty foolish bouncing back to Nathan in the 10th inning, as he reached out for an outside fastball. So this time, he was going to make Nathan -- who was on fumes -- work harder.
With his uncanny ability to reach across the strike zone, Rodriguez smashed a 1-1 slider deep to left field. Shannon Stewart could have tried for an acrobatic catch but instead allowed it to bounce over the fence, knowing full well Jeter would have scored if the ball stayed in the park.
Hideki Matsui then lined J.C. Romero's first pitch to right field and Jeter scored just ahead of the throw home to seal a 7-6, Game 2 win to even the series.
Rodriguez's tying double galvanized the 56,354 that sulked after Torii Hunter put the Twins ahead, 6-5, with a solo home run off Tanyon Sturtze in the top of the 12th, and it also capped a masterful night for the newest Yankees star.
Rodriguez was 4-for-6 with a home run, double and three RBIs.
"Well I have been feeling pretty good all of September," said Rodriguez, dressed in a dapper royal blue suit. "Ever since (manager) Joe (Torre) put me in the two slot I feel like I have a lot more opportunities to contribute. But it was a game we needed. It was a special game for us."
That double was not Rodriguez's only key hit. He sparked a rally against Brad Radke in the third with a one-out single and Gary Sheffield followed with a laser home run to tie the game at 3.
Rodriguez then gave the Bombers a 4-3 lead in the fifth when he lifted a curveball deep into the netting that covers the monuments for his first postseason home run as a Yankee.
"He's the best player in baseball," Sheffield said. "He showed that tonight."
Perhaps that was the hit that christened A-Rod as a true Yankee. He's endured his struggles offensively this season and fielded many questions the past few days about performing in the postseason on baseball's biggest stage.
"I think it took a little adjustment for some reason," Torre said. "I just have a sense that Alex is so talented that a lot of times, he tries to do too many things. He tries to control the situation."
Producing with runners in scoring position has been an issue for Rodriguez all season. He hit just .248 in that situation and .206 with two out. So Torre was heartened when Rodriguez punched a one-out single in the seventh off Radke to score Cairo for a 5-3 lead.
That lead appeared secure with the Yankees' usually reliable bullpen. But the pesky Twins scraped up two runs in the top of the eighth to tie the game off Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera.
The game then became a battle of the bullpens and Sturtze, who threw a valiant 2 2/3 innings, gave up what appeared to be the winning home run to Hunter. But history has proved that whenever the Yankees have another chance at-bat, they are capable pulling off another improbable postseason win. (See: Game 7, 2003 ALCS).
The bottom of the ninth, 10th or whatever inning has seen countless dramatic comebacks, so this was nothing new -- except for the hero.
"When Yogi Berra gave me a hug yesterday, I think to this moment, it's still the most special day of being a Yankee," he said. "September has been a pretty good month for me and the start of October is pretty good. But we've got a long ways to go."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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