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A-Rod finally timing it right

By Nick Cafardo
November 1, 2009

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PHILADELPHIA - Maybe all Alex Rodriguez needed to come out of his funk was a good dose of Cole Hamels, the pitcher who has made an incredibly negative turnaround from one postseason to the next. From postseason MVP to postseason MIA.

A-Rod had quelled those demons of past unproductive postseasons when he hit .438 with five homers and 12 RBIs in the first two playoff rounds. But once the World Series began, a time when Yankee greats like Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, and Reggie Jackson really made their marks, A-Rod had disappeared again. He went 0 for 8 with six strikeouts in the first two games of the World Series, and tossed in some shoddy fielding as well. Even in the first inning of Game 3 last night, Jimmy Rollins lined a ball off his glove in the first inning that went through into left field for what was ruled a hit. In the fourth inning he booted Pedro Feliz’s ground ball.

But the worm started to turn for A-Rod in the fourth when he came out of his funk with an instant replay-aided two-run homer to right that began a steady and relentless comeback by the Yankees, who erased a 3-0 deficit to win, 8-5, giving them a 2-1 lead in the Series.

It was also a big moment for the Yankee offense, which was going without Hideki Matsui with the DH not being used. To have Rodriguez continue to struggle would have been tough to overcome.

“A big hit for us because it really got us going,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of the home run. “Alex has been so good for us in playoffs. He’s a big reason why we’re at this point. The fact that he hit one to right field means he isn’t overswinging. He’s been huge for us.’’

A-Rod’s homer was originally ruled a double, but when the replay was shown it was obvious the ball had struck the camera positioned in the bleachers. Umpires, to their credit, went to the replay and emerged less than two minutes later signaling home run. Last night’s replay was also the first used in the postseason.

“It was only fitting, right?’’ said A-Rod. “I’m just glad we got a good ruling.’’

The Phillies still led after the homer, 3-2, but it started to dent Hamels’s confidence because the lefty, who had captured both the NLCS and World Series MVP last season, lost whatever momentum he might have had. The Yankees went ahead in the fifth when Andy Pettitte singled in the tying run, followed by Johnny Damon’s two-run double.

The thing about A-Rod’s production - 14 RBIs - this postseason is that his hits have been impactful. They have not been garbage-time hits. They have meant something, which is precisely what a player of his magnitude and salary is supposed to do. He will never receive attaboys for being so good because it’s expected.

“It was a big hit because I think it woke up our offense,’’ A-Rod said. “It’s weird to have it happen like it did with a replay, but I’ll take it.’’

He was hit with pitches twice in this game - once in his first at-bat in the second inning and then again in the sixth with the Yankees leading, 6-4, a runner at second against reliever Chad Durbin.

Throughout this postseason, teammates and Girardi have mentioned how relaxed Rodriguez has appeared, but there’s no doubt tightness was setting in after his disastrous first two games. Phillies pitchers had been throwing in and tight, precisely where he doesn’t like the ball and they were getting him to chase bad pitches. He was frozen by Pedro Martinez’ curves and changeups in Game 2. After six whiffs you had to think, is he now heading the other way?

Phillies fans were certainly hoping so.

But Rodriguez, playing in his first World Series, kept plugging away. He took some extra hitting in the cage on the off day, spent some time with hitting coach Kevin Long reviewing video of his swing, and kept hearing what Long always preaches - swing at strikes.

It helps that the Yankees have the original Mr. October, Reggie Jackson on the scene, who has become a sounding board for A-Rod. He’s spoken with A-Rod for a few years and publicly has always said he thought Rodriguez had it in him to be Mr. October, or this year, perhaps, Mr. November.

The Yankees are now up, 2-1, after winning what former Yankee manager Joe Torre always called the most important game of a seven-game series. And they won because their superstar steered them back.

Last night he was Mr. End of October.

He may soon be Mr. November.

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