A-Rod becomes focus of Yanks' woes
Hitless through two games, third baseman remains optimistic
NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez's cell phone buzzed through the morning hours on Saturday, sporadic text messages filtering in to gather the Yankees star's frame of mind.
Rodriguez has greeted good friend Doug Mientkiewicz all season long by chirping, "Cheer up, Doug" in clubhouses across the country. And right about now, Mientkiewicz figures that A-Rod can use all the positive reinforcement he can get.
Up against the wall heading into Game 3 of the American League Division Series, the Yankees are down two games to none as the series moves to New York. Rodriguez has been the centerpiece of a lineup badly in need of a charge.
"He's been through this before," Mientkiewicz said. "We just need him to be him, and then let everybody else do our own thing."
With just eight hits in their first 20 innings of play this postseason, the Yankees have joined Rodriguez with their cold sticks. Unfortunately for A-Rod, his personal playoff demons have not paid any attention to the results of his probable AL Most Valuable Player season.
"Put Alex in the group with everybody else," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I don't think it's fair to single him out. We got three hits [in Game 2] and scored, what, four runs in two games? Three of them were home runs. So we certainly need to do a better job of doing what we've been doing most of the year.
"Alex gets up there in situations. Sometimes they're not going to pitch to him, sometimes they have to pitch to him and they're making pretty good pitches on him. He's fouling off his pitch and stuff like that. I think everybody is trying a little bit too hard."
Mientkiewicz declined to discuss exactly what digital messages he'd been exchanging with Rodriguez, only to say that the intention was to "keep his mind right" and enjoy his day on Saturday. Whatever Rodriguez did, it had to have been better than Friday night.
When Rodriguez waved at a 96-mph sinker from Cleveland's Fausto Carmona in the ninth inning, stranding the potential go-ahead run at second base, A-Rod's postseason hitless string extended to 19 at-bats. It is a trend that Mientkiewicz insists will reverse.
"I believe in him probably more than anybody else outside of his family, so I've seen him do it before," Mientkiewicz said. "He'll do it again. We've just got to keep plugging along and get him in situations to where, you know, they have to come right at him. I said that before, but I believe in him. He's going to come through, I promise."
Rodriguez said that, before his ninth-inning at-bat, he glanced up at Carmona's pitch count and saw triple digits, a ripe position to spoil a terrific night.
So many times this season, the Yankees have wanted A-Rod to surface in those moments. So many times, Rodriguez came through. So what happened?
"That's the spot of the game where you want to be -- there's no question," Rodriguez said. "I was excited about the situation, and I thought I was the right man in the right spot. I worked him, fouled off some tough pitches, but I have to tip my cap. He won the battle.
"The last at-bat, I thought I battled long and hard. Against a guy like that, you want to battle and foul pitches off and hopefully, he makes a mistake over the plate. To his credit, he just kept making good pitches."
The inning ended, and New York batters made six more outs before Travis Hafner drove home the winning run in the 11th inning off Luis Vizcaino, Rodriguez trudging off the field with his teammates as the Indians celebrated wildly near first base.
After Game 2, an unusually chatty Rodriguez stood at his locker underneath Jacobs Field and fielded questions for about 10 minutes. Limited to two walks and no runs scored in this ALDS, Rodriguez has provided postseason words damned by numbers -- just 4-for-50 since his home run in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS against Boston, with no RBIs since then.
"Overall, I think we're trying to do a little too much individually -- all of us," Rodriguez said.
But A-Rod also had questions to ask, commiserating with nearby neighbor Johnny Damon about just how good Carmona's stuff was that night.
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The sinker Rodriguez whipped at, he said, looked like it fell a foot. Tying his shoelaces on a chair, Damon glanced over and -- an 0-for-5 in his pocket -- knowingly nodded. Carmona's stuff really had been that good, not that a general consensus does much for the Yankees' spirits heading into Game 3.
"I believe with all my heart that Alex is going to be fine," said Andy Pettitte. "He's not the only person on this team. We need some other guys to do some damage. We've had guys all year driving in a lot of runs and doing a lot of damage besides him. So we're a team, and we're all in this together."
It was just a week ago that Rodriguez sat on a golf cart outside the visitors' clubhouse in Baltimore, spending 16 minutes chatting with reporters about various topics, not the least of which was how this postseason was going to be different.
The lessons learned through his tremendous regular season -- during which he led the Major Leagues in runs, home runs and RBIs -- would be strong enough to hold firm into October. But it is that cruelest month, Rodriguez is finding out again, when nothing is assured.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.