10/03/2002 00:47 am ET
Soriano takes one for the team
Yankees slugger gets plunked in crucial at-bat
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- As strange as it may seem, stepping up to bat in a big postseason spot isn't very stressful for Alfonso Soriano.
Soriano tried unsuccessfully for the final 12 days of the season to hit the home run that would have put him in the exclusive 40-40 club. Once September turned to October, though, all he concerned himself with was hitting the ball hard and helping his team win. After all, the next home run he hit would be No. 1, not 40.
"It's easier for me to go to the plate now, because I just try to hit it hard," Soriano said. "At the end of the regular season, it was harder for me because everyone was talking about 40-40. Now, my mind is set on hitting the ball hard all the time and just putting it in play."
In the sixth inning of Wednesday's American League Division Series Game 2, Soriano found himself standing at the plate with Juan Rivera at second base representing the tying run.
Like he did in his crucial at-bat in the eighth inning on Tuesday, Soriano fell behind in the count 0-2. Only this time, he didn't work a walk. Francisco Rodriguez grooved a slider to Soriano, who belted it over the left-field wall, giving the Yankees a 5-4 lead.
"It was very exciting," Soriano said. "The first two games, I have struggled a little, but I felt more comfortable on that at-bat. It was a big homer at a big moment."
Despite being 0-for-6 to that point in the first two games, Soriano was confident that he could deliver for his team. Last year, the rookie second baseman hit two huge postseason home runs -- a walk-off two-run shot against Seattle in Game 4 of the ALCS, and a solo homer off Curt Schilling in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, which put New York ahead with six outs to go.
Of course, the Yankees lost the championship to Arizona, but general manager Brian Cashman saw last fall that he had yet another clutch performer on his side.
"After last year, I know he's not intimidated," Cashman said. "He yearns for the big stage, he wants to be up at the plate in the big spot."
Anaheim fought back in the eighth, pulling a play out of the Yankees' playbook with back-to-back solo homers by Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus to take a 6-5 lead. The Yankees would finally feel the disappointment of blowing a late lead -- or would they?
The Yankees managed two singles against Angels reliever Ben Weber, and Soriano strolled to the plate in the eighth inning with two outs and two on, his team down by two runs. Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia called on his closer, Troy Percival, to face Soriano. Could the Yankees' sophomore deliver again?
"I like the pressure, because I like to win all the time," Soriano said. "When I go to the plate in big moments, I have more concentration."
Unfortunately for Soriano, he'll never know whether or not he could have come up with another clutch hit. Percival's first pitch drilled Soriano in the left shoulder blade, loading the bases for Derek Jeter. Percival struck out Jeter on a questionable called third strike, and the Angels went on to take Game 2 by an 8-6 final.
"I thought he was going to throw the first pitch away, but he threw the first pitch into my shoulder," Soriano said. "I like the big moment, so I'll wait for the big moment again."
"In his mind, he was probably ticked off that he didn't have the opportunity against Percival because he got drilled," Cashman said. "He wants that big-stage situation."
The Yankees received a taste of their own medicine on Wednesday, but Soriano is confident that it won't have a lingering effect on New York as the series shifts to Anaheim.
"We'll go to Anaheim for two games and try to win those two. We'll play hard," Soriano said. "I know my team, and I know we're going to play hard. Maybe we can win two games out there, but for sure, I know we're going to win one game."
If he is to have a positive impact for the Yankees on the West Coast, he will have to improve on his previous numbers at Edison Field. In his career, he is 4-for-21 (.190) with one RBI in Anaheim, including a 2-for-13 (.154) performance in the Yankees' only four games there this season.
"Now it's different," Soriano said. "I don't want to think about the regular season, because I didn't have a good experience. I will go to the plate like I'm playing in New York."
If he is able to do that, the Yankees could see more memorable moments from Soriano.
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.