10/12/09 1:46 AM ET
RISP success means respect for A-Rod
Slugger adds addendum to playoff struggles -- it's over
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
It took one game for Rodriguez to exorcise whatever October demons still haunted him, two for him to prove that it was not a fluke. So in the seventh inning of the Yankees' 4-1 win over the Twins in Game 3 of American League Division Series, when Rodriguez slammed a Carl Pavano pitch into the Metrodome's idle football seats on Sunday evening, there was positively nothing unique about it.
Just another home run for an apparent October expert.
"I knew I couldn't change all the 0-for-4s and 0-for-5s and all the guys I left on base," Rodriguez said of his previous postseason struggles. "I also know that I am 34, not 44, and I have an opportunity to do things right both on and off the field."
The result was one of the more productive ALDS the Yankees could have expected. In three games, Rodriguez hit .455 with two game-tying home runs and six RBIs, camping out in the middle of the Bombers' lineup and wreaking havoc on nearly every pitcher the Twins dared to use.
Already one of the most successful regular-season players in Major League history, Rodriguez now appears to be making up for lost time in October. Entering this postseason on an 0-for-19 postseason streak with runners in scoring position, and with just one inconsequential home run during that span, Rodriguez has now proven he can be every bit as effective in October as in, say, May or June.
Clutch situations no longer appear to bother him. Big hits no longer elude him. All season long, Rodriguez and his teammates have spoken of his new relaxed attitude, but those words never quite seemed to resonate until now.
Big man in the Bronx
The proof has arrived.
"He makes it look easy," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I know it's not easy, but he's such a talented player, and he was a big part of the reason we won here."
It is one thing to hit two home runs in three games, but quite another for them to come at the most critical junctures possible. It is one thing for him to record five hits, but quite another for every single one of them to drive in at least one run. Rodriguez "had an unbelievable series," in the words of his manager, and he had an awfully clutch one, too.
Derek Jeter, who knows a thing or two about clutch hitting, was downright floored by Rodriguez's ability to come through every single time he came to the plate with a chance to do major damage. Ignoring his previous postseason woes with runners in scoring position, Rodriguez finished this series 3-for-4 in such spots.
"The most impressive thing is that he hits home runs when we need him to," Jeter said. "He's been seeing the ball well all year."
How this all plays out may change as the postseason progresses, as the stakes grow higher and the consequences greater. But right now, the Yankees want to see Rodriguez more than anyone else on the team in big spots -- which historically hasn't been the case for this once-in-a-generation talent.
"He did great, man," Jeter said. "He came up with a couple huge home runs for us. He's swinging the bat well. He's been swinging the bat extremely well the whole year. It seems like he continues to get better and better, and hopefully, he'll continue. He's a big reason why we're here."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.