10/21/09 6:46 PM ET
Angels must figure out way to stop A-Rod
Yanks' bomber has been a one-man wrecking crew in ALCS
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
If the Angels can do that starting with Thursday's Game 5 of this American League Championship Series, maybe they will be able to board that team charter to New York.
For all the problems the Angels have had in this series, being unable to stop A-Rod is probably the biggest. The star third baseman has been on the type of run that awes teammates and sinks opponents.
In the Division Series against the Twins, Rodriguez thrashed Minnesota pitching to the tune of .455 with two homers and six RBIs. Against the Angels, A-Rod is hitting .375 with three homers and five RBIs. It adds up to an overall postseason of a .407 batting average, a 1.000 slugging percentage and a gaudy OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.469.
"Well, there is no questioning what he's meant to that Yankee lineup through the Minnesota series and now our series," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "He's as good as anybody has performed up to this point of any playoff. With the clutch hits, he's played terrific defense -- he's doing everything for those guys. Obviously, we have to find a better way to contain him and to counter it."
The man who has the first crack at neutralizing Rodriguez is Game 5 starter John Lackey. In Game 1, Lackey gave up a sacrifice fly, a single up the middle and a walk to Rodriguez. In regular-season action over the years, A-Rod is just a .176 hitter over 51 at-bats against Lackey, but that does include four homers and six RBIs.
"I mean, you've got to pick your spots, obviously," said Lackey. "It's tough to pitch around one guy in this lineup because they're so deep. But if I pitch up to my capabilities, I think I'll be OK. I've had a little bit of success against him."
But as a whole, the Angels haven't been able to stop the man when it counts. How can they change that?
"It would be nice to get the guys out in front of him," Lackey said. "That kind of limits the damage right there. You've got to try to get those guys out in front of him, and hopefully he's hitting with nobody on base."
If the Angels start trying to work around Rodriguez, the star slugger vows not to force the issue.
"I mean, one thing coming into this postseason I knew is that I have to trust my teammates and pass the baton," Rodriguez said after Game 4. "That is something that [hitting coach] Kevin Long preaches all the time. Swing at strikes and take your base on balls and hopefully score runs."
Whether it was Michael Jordan in basketball, Tiger Woods in golf or someone of A-Rod's caliber in baseball, only the truly elite at their craft can probably know what it feels like to be in the type of groove Rodriguez is in at the moment.
"Well, the game slows down for you, no doubt about it," Rodriguez said. "You feel like you want to see the ball and hit it hard and not try to do too much. But the best way I can describe it is you feel like the game is slowing down for you a little bit."
How do the Angels slow A-Rod down?
"Next question," said Angels center fielder Torii Hunter.
In fairness to Hunter, those answers have to come from those who pitch for a living. Reliever Jason Bulger was the victim of A-Rod's two-run rocket in Game 4.
"The biggest thing you can do is to keep going out there and making your pitches," Bulger said. "He's maybe the most locked in I've ever seen him. We've still got to attack the zone."
The Yankees can only hope the Angels stay with that aggressive mindset of going after A-Rod.
"He's not chasing the tough pitches because he knows he doesn't have to," said Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon. "In the playoffs, a walk is just as good at times. You make the pitchers throw more pitches. When you have [Jorge] Posada and [Hideki] Matsui coming up behind you, guys who can do damage, Alex isn't worrying too much about it."
It is still a baseball that is being delivered to Rodriguez. But there's a chance it looks more like a beach ball.
"I don't think I've ever seen a guy go through a stretch like this, especially in the postseason. It's unbelievable," said Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira. "They're trying everything they can to get him out. He's not missing pitches. He's not swinging at bad pitches. Alex is one of the greatest hitters of all-time. He's showing it right now. When you're locked in like that, you're seeing the ball so good and your natural swing takes over and good things happen."
Very bad things have been happening to the Angels.
"He's not missing, I'll tell you that," said Angels third baseman Chone Figgins. "When you give him a pitch to hit, he's not missing his pitch."
The Angels just hope he can miss enough in Game 5 so they can get on that flight to New York for some more baseball.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.