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10/26/09 1:56 AM ET

A-Rod's playoff transformation continues

Yankees slugger has taken his game to new level this October

NEW YORK -- One step still remains. For Alex Rodriguez to complete the transformation from postseason goat to October hero, he must continue to contribute on the biggest stage of all. And that opportunity will come.

For now, Rodriguez has proven all he can. And the Yankees recognized that much in the wake of their 5-2 American League Championship Series-clinching win over the Angels on Sunday, showering upon Rodriguez all the accolades they could concoct. For a man constantly criticized by his own fans for years, this postseason has become the most dramatic of reversals.

"I came in with no expectations," Rodriguez said, referring to the right hip surgery he underwent this spring. "I was scared. I feared that I wouldn't be able to contribute. I had a lot of limitations, and the whole year for me was about trusting my teammates and being one of the guys."

It has been, for Rodriguez, a most remarkable transformation. Entering this year's AL Division Series against the Twins, Rodriguez had just eight hits over his previous 61 postseason at-bats, good for a .161 average dating back to 2004. He had 19 strikeouts and one inconsequential RBI during that span, and was 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-29 with men on base.

And now he has experienced the antithesis of that -- in every conceivable way.

Through nine postseason games this October, Rodriguez is hitting .438 with five homers, nine walks and 12 RBIs. In six ALCS games, Rodriguez hit .429, with three homers and six RBIs. And with a single in the first inning Sunday, part of his 2-for-2 performance with three walks, Rodriguez extended his postseason hitting streak to 11 games. Only Pete Rose and Manny Ramirez, both with 15-game October streaks, have done better.

If not for the stellar pitching of CC Sabathia, Rodriguez easily could have been named the ALCS MVP.

"For me, with no expectations and trusting my teammates and taking the walks and doing the little things, you end up doing big things," Rodriguez said. "That's the lesson for me."

Through nine postseason games this October, Alex Rodriguez is hitting .438.
ALDS, Game 1 4 2 1 0 0 2
ALDS, Game 2 4 2 1 0 1 3
ALDS, Game 3 3 1 2 1 1 1
ALCS, Game 1 2 1 0 1 0 1
ALCS, Game 2 6 1 1 0 1 1
ALCS, Game 3 4 1 1 1 1 1
ALCS, Game 4 4 3 3 1 1 2
ALCS, Game 5 3 1 1 2 0 0
ALCS, Game 6 2 2 0 3 0 1
Totals 32 14 10 9 5 12

And it's been a long time coming. Rodriguez has played in 2,166 regular-season games, but until now, he has never reached the World Series. Among active players, only Ken Griffey Jr., Rodriguez's former teammate in Seattle, has played in more games (2,638) without participating in the Fall Classic.

"In order to win a World Series, you have to get there," Rodriguez said. "We've done that, and hopefully the good Lord blesses us with four more."

And so it is an opportunity he is certain to cherish. Even at 34 years old, with presumably a decade or so remaining in his big league career, Rodriguez cannot be certain when he might reach the World Series again.

"It gets tougher," he said. "You think about our era with all these divisions and all these Championship Series and then the World Series, it's obviously much more challenging now. It feels good to get in."

Especially since he has contributed in such a significant way. Perhaps it was fitting that moments after Mariano Rivera recorded the final out Sunday, dropping the Angels and officially putting the Yankees in the World Series, the on-field celebration drifted to the general area of the third-base bag.

Rodriguez was in the middle of it, as he has been in the middle of so much of this Yankees run this October.

"He's a man on a mission, and it all started when he came to Baltimore and hit that three-run homer on the first pitch," manager Joe Girardi said, referring to Rodriguez's first game back from surgery in May. "He has been tremendous for us."

It is possible, of course, that Rodriguez may lapse back into his old October ways come the last and final round of his postseason quest. But it isn't likely. If Rodriguez was going to succumb to the crush of yet another pressure-packed October, he likely would have done so by now.

"He will be fine," catcher Jorge Posada said. "I don't think we have to talk to him."

Nor does Rodriguez need any advice. He knows what he has done, and he knows what he must still do.

"You know, a lot of great players have never had the honor to play in a World Series," Rodriguez said. "So for me, I thank the good Lord for putting me with the greatest organization and 24 great teammates. It feels really good."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.