11/05/09 4:00 AM EST
Humbled A-Rod soaks in first championship
Slugger shook off previous postseason struggles in '09
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
"I'm searching for words right now," Rodriguez said, a backwards cap shaving years off his face as he celebrated the Yankees' 7-3 victory over the Phillies on Wednesday night. "I'm just enjoying the moment.
In so many ways, Rodriguez appeared younger, freer than he did in February in Tampa, Fla., when he sat before rows of reporters and admitted to using steroids during his years in Texas. All season long, that day stuck with Rodriguez, cemented to the sides of his brain.
There was a March surgery on his right hip, too, a scary thought for Rodriguez at the time. There could be no guarantees that he would play up to his potential this season, and certainly not at the level he did.
Even after Rodriguez posted a fine season to quiet his skeptics, there was the matter of his October flaws. For three consecutive postseasons, Rodriguez had faltered, driving in a total of one run for the Yankees.
Now it is November, and Rodriguez has successfully dodged the first obstacle, overcome the second one and shattered the third.
"He's a world champion," general manager Brian Cashman said. "No one can say anything about him anymore. He's performed in October. He's performed on the biggest stage. He's got a World Series ring coming his way, and he deserves it."
Hitting .365 in the postseason, Rodriguez slammed six homers and drove in 18 runs. He was, in short, as valuable as anyone on the club, forcing opponents to pitch around him and creating opportunities for his more mortal teammates.
A-Rod also entered this postseason with more regular-season games played without a World Series appearance than all but one active player, Ken Griffey Jr. Rodriguez had never seen this stage before, and yet when he arrived here, he took to it with all the aplomb of his more seasoned teammates.
After an 0-for-8 start to the World Series, Rodriguez finished up 5-for-12 with one home run, six RBIs, five runs scored and a stolen base. Though Hideki Matsui was the Most Valuable Player in the World Series and Mariano Rivera was the apparent runner-up, Rodriguez was arguably the most valuable player of the postseason as a whole. So many times, he simply achieved.
And A-Rod did it despite thoughts that he would never be here, that he would never win, that he would never perform on this stage in his career.
A-ROD GETS HIS RING
"He answered those questions and more," catcher Jorge Posada said. "He really is one of the best players in the big leagues. He really was comfortable. He played the game with no expectations. He just went out there and played the game he loved."
"It is a difficult thing to do," Rodriguez said.
Even Rodriguez was unsure of his future that day in Tampa, when he addressed the media, or that day on the operating table in Vail, Colo. Though his teammates never abandoned him, there was a disconnect there. Fans turned on him. The media wounded him.
Then something clicked.
"I had nothing to lose this year," Rodriguez said, explaining his revelation. "I hit rock bottom. There's nothing else that could happen to a human being. I just said, 'Let me go out and be one of the guys.' It takes a lot of pressure off you just to go out and play, and your talent sometimes shines even more when you don't worry about individual stuff.
"I've been humbled. I've been through a lot. And I can't be happier with the way the Steinbrenner family, the coaches and players and the city of New York has supported me."
The cigar still smoking, Rodriguez beamed when he discussed how difficult it really is to win a World Series title. And he knows best. Rodriguez did it, after so many years of waiting, after so many years of uncertainty, finally achieving a feat that many players never do.
Rodriguez did it despite everything and everyone. And the Yankees did it because of him.
"I've waited for a long time," Rodriguez said. "The championship is back where it belongs in New York City."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.