Rodriguez Caps Two-Out, Six-Run Rally in Familiar Fashion

Yankees 8, Indians 6

Rodriguez Caps Two-Out, Six-Run Rally in Familiar Fashion


Published : April 20, 2007 / The New York Times

Joe Borowski’s slider bounced through his catcher’s legs, and the Yankees’ runners moved up to second and third. Now a base was open for Alex Rodriguez.

At the plate, Rodriguez said he thought that the Cleveland Indians now had options. They could walk him intentionally and try to make Jason Giambi beat them. Or they could challenge him and try to end the game.

In the Yankees’ clubhouse, relievers Mike Myers and Brian Bruney had the same debate as they watched on television. Bruney was convinced the Indians would walk Rodriguez.

“Not that Jason’s a slouch, by any means,” Bruney said. “But this guy is the hottest hitter on the planet right now.”

Rodriguez had not looked so hot for eight and a half innings. He was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, and he made an error that let in a run. In the past, Rodriguez said, those failures might have weighed on him. Not anymore.

For the second time in two weeks, Rodriguez vaulted the Yankees from losers to winners with a home run to center field with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. This time, it was a three-run shot and a feel-good 8-6 victory on the eve of a series with the Boston Red Sox.

Rodriguez thrust his arms in the air as he romped around the bases, flinging his helmet aside as he bounced into a throng of teammates at the plate. The stands erupted, and the clubhouse did, too.

“Once he hit it,” Myers said, “everyone was going nuts.”

Rodriguez has 10 home runs in his team’s first 14 games. He is the first player in American League history to do that. He has 26 runs batted in, 10 more than he had last April.

Somehow, as Rodriguez said after his grand slam beat Baltimore on April 7, the game always seems to come down to him. Even his teammates sense that now.

The Yankees started their rally with two outs and the bases empty, just as they had against the Orioles. In that game, though, the Yankees trailed by a run. This time, they trailed by four, and Rodriguez was not due up for six more spots.

Yet when Josh Phelps homered to make the score 6-3, Andy Pettitte nudged Rodriguez on the bench and told him he would make a difference.

“Pettitte said to me, ‘You may have one more chance to do some damage,’ ” Rodriguez said. “I looked at him and I didn’t quite believe him. As the inning started to develop, I got my chance.”

Three times over the course of the next four batters, Borowski came within a strike of winning the game. But Jorge Posada singled with two strikes, and Johnny Damon walked with two strikes.

Then Derek Jeter singled in Posada, and Bobby Abreu came up, with three singles already.

“To be honest with you, I thought Bobby Abreu was going to win the game,” Manager Joe Torre said. “The at-bats he was taking, a right-handed pitcher, and he’s such a patient hitter.”

Abreu flicked a 1-2 changeup to left, scoring Damon to make the score 6-5. Now it was Rodriguez’s turn, and the first pitch was wild.

The Indians could have called for three more balls to load the bases, but Manager Eric Wedge said he was mindful of Giambi, who had homered in the sixth and is 3 for 5 with two career home runs against Borowski.

“It’s a tough spot there,” Wedge said, “because if you put A-Rod on, you have a situation where you have to make perfect pitches to Giambi, who is about as selective as any hitter in the game.”

Borowski tried a fastball at 88 miles an hour. It was outside, but ripe for a hot hitter to crush. That is what Rodriguez did, for his 474th career homer. For Borowski, it was the culmination of an inning that quickly spun out of his control.

“Two quick outs, and all of a sudden it looked like it was 4 o’clock out there — like it was batting practice,” Borowski said. “Fastballs, breaking balls, up, down, they just hit everything.”

But nobody hit it quite like Rodriguez, who seems to be smashing everything these days and playing with a swagger not seen much since 2005, when he won the Most Valuable Player award. “It’s a new Alex,” Damon said. “He’s taking playing in New York a little differently. He knows he works harder than everybody, he knows he’s bigger and stronger than everybody, and now he’s just going out there and playing the game.”

Yankees first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who played with Rodriguez in high school, said baseball was not supposed to look so easy. The way Rodriguez is hitting, Mientkiewicz said, people think there is a problem if the ball does not clear a fence.

That is not fair to Rodriguez, Mientkiewicz said, but that is the standard he is setting.

“He has come through every time we have needed him,” Mientkiewicz said. “It’s insanity, it’s ridiculous. It is not normal.”

Rodriguez’s performance in the clutch has been hotly debated the past three seasons. Now it is hard to believe it was ever an issue.

“It’s all been good since I’ve been here,” said Pettitte, who is teammates with Rodriguez for the first time. “I’m scratching my head trying to figure out what everyone was complaining about.”