10/05/2002 02:58 am ET
Hot Rod rolls over Yankees
Angels phenom showing off electric stuff
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- He's nasty. He's electric. He's filthy. He's Frankie.
And on Friday night, in front of the four-time defending American League champion Yankees and millions of national television viewers, he went to Hollywood.
Anaheim's 20-year-old Venezuelan rookie phenom, relief pitcher Francisco "Frankie" Rodriguez, has stormed into the Major Leagues and into postseason prominence since his September callup from Triple-A Salt Lake.
Combining five regular-season appearances with his two postseason stints, Rodriguez has struck out 18 batters in 9 2/3 innings on some of the best hitting teams in the American League: Oakland, Seattle, Texas and now New York.
On Friday, however, he opened more eyes than ever before.
With the Angels in the process of pecking away at a 6-1 Yankee lead, Rodriguez entered the game for the seventh inning and baffled the Yankees with his 95 mph cutter and his wicked mid-80s slider.
He struck out Bernie Williams and Robin Ventura in the seventh before giving up a Jorge Posada liner that was caught by second baseman Adam Kennedy.
In the eighth, Raul Mondesi took him to the warning track on a flyout to left, but he struck out Nick Johnson and froze Juan Rivera for the third out.
In between these six outs were some truly ugly, baffled swings -- enough to elicit strong words from the Anaheim on-lookers.
"Those pitches he has, I can't imagine what they're like to hitters," said Kennedy, who went 3-for-3 with a homer, helping Rodriguez earn the victory, his second of the series.
"They're not comfortable at the plate. You've got some of the best hitters in the game having some half-swings up there. He looks like he wants to be out there. He knows what he's doing."
Darin Erstad, who drove in the game-winning run with a double in the eighth inning, was asked for his first thoughts to describe Rodriguez's scintillating presence Friday night. Erstad took a slug of his post-game beverage and smiled before answering.
"Where did this guy come from?" Erstad said. "What a fantastic job he's done in such a short time. For a kid to have that kind of composure is a big boost in the arm for our whole bullpen, who have worked so hard for us this year. What else can you say?"
Plenty, if you're Angels shortstop David Eckstein.
"It's unbelievable," Eckstein said. "You just have to stand back and almost be amazed. He's so young and so talented, but he understands the game. His maturity level is real high. Hopefully he keeps going."
The key to Rodriguez's Friday success was that he did keep going.
In Wednesday's 8-6 win in Yankee Stadium, Rodriguez was brought in for the sixth inning while the Angels led, 4-3.
He got two quick outs, but Raul Mondesi singled to extend the inning and second baseman Benji Gil made an error throwing to first on a fielder's choice grounder by Juan Rivera.
That allowed Alfonso Soriano to bat, and Soriano cashed in, launching an 0-2 slider into the seats for a 5-4 Yankee lead.
"With an 0-and-2 count, you have four more pitches," Rodriguez said. "I shouldn't have thrown the ball where I did and he made me pay for it."
What could have been a devastating setback for an unproven kid turned out to be no problem at all.
Rodriguez came out for the seventh and retired Jason Giambi, Williams and Ventura in order, laying out the red carpet for the eighth-inning fireworks of Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus that won the game for Anaheim.
"I learned that if you make a mistake, you'll get hurt," Rodriguez said. "But I just want to concentrate and have fun while I'm out there. "I'm a rookie, I'm 20 years old, it was my first full season in the minor leagues, and I never thought I'd be here."
After Friday's performance, members of the media were comparing him to Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who first strutted his formidable stuff against the Seattle Mariners on the ALDS stage in 1995.
Scioscia, while impressed, wasn't about to give him that much credit yet.
"Frankie Rodriguez has a long way to go before you put him in Mariano Rivera's shoes," Scioscia said. "Rivera's an incredible athlete, an incredible pitcher. I'm sure that's a great goal for Frankie to set.
"I think Frankie has that live arm that you don't see very often. He's got an incredible breaking ball, a fastball that just explodes. He definitely has the ability to eventually become a closer, I think a dominant closer in the game."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.