Relaxed, wiser A-Rod struts stuff in Game 1Yanks slugger breaks out of playoff funk with clutch RBI hits
Jeter, who two innings prior belted a two-run home run to left field to erase a 2-0 deficit, clapped two more times while stepping on home plate. Shortly after Nick Swisher's RBI double gave the Yankees the lead for good, Alex Rodriguez airbrushed some postseason demons from existence and there was a collective exhale.
Eight-for-58 postseason slide since 2004? Over. Forty consecutive stranded runners on base? Done. Yet more proof that A-Rod is the most relaxed he's ever been during a polarized Yankees career that's had more hits on TMZ than he's produced in playoff baseball. Seeing Rodriguez splashed on tabloid pages for naughty indiscretions, and even shenanigans like trying to slap a ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove in 2004, had you questioning his intelligence.
But, really, he's not stupid. He may have a career .305 batting average with 583 home runs, 1,706 RBI and three AL MVP Awards, (in addition to the admittance of using performance enhancing drugs), but his October digits since Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS have been downright hideous. Athletes try hard to not read the papers, but A-Rod's not oblivious. He knows what he hasn't done and what he needed to do to kick off the chase for his first World Series ring.
"There's no question that I haven't been that good," Rodriguez said. "It certainly felt good to get that hit out of the way."
Having spent $423.5 million on upgrades after seeing their 13-year postseason streak end last year, the Yankees took their first of 11 required steps towards doing the only thing that matters in these parts with a 7-2 win over the scorching Twins in Game 1 of the Division Series. For a player seeking some serious redemption, Rodriguez had the perfect opponent. The last time he saw the Twins in October, A-Rod batted .421 with three RBIs in the 2004 ALDS, where his 11th inning double, steal of third and run scored on Kyle Lohse's wild pitch in Game 4 secured a series win.
Since then? Pretty deplorable. Stepping to the plate in the fifth with young Twins lefty Brian Duensing on the ropes his 0-for-19 streak with runners in scoring position -- and 0-for-18 with RISP and two outs in the postseason -- were heavier burdens than the dismantling of the building across the street.
Yet bring up the past and his teammates will shush you, telling you it's about this year and "one game at a time." Game 1 is in the books and in it reads Rodriguez 2-for-4 with two RBIs, the first of which set up Hideki Matsui's homer to Monument Park that in essence put the game away.
"It's great for Alex but it's good for this team," said Joba Chamberlain. "We continued to score runs and put that pressure on them. I think that's the way Alex sees it too. He understands how good he is and we also understand it. It really doesn't matter what he's done before. This is a new year."
Coming off the embarrassment of the PED admission and the pain of a surgically-removed cyst in his right hip, Rodriguez learned his most important lesson. There are people you can trust -- for real. There's never a need to do everything, carry a star-studded team with a Cy Young contender and two MVP candidates on your back.
It finally sunk in this year: Nobody can go at it alone, not even Superman.
"It just feels good to contribute and do the little things," Rodriguez said. "That's what we've talked about all year. It definitely felt good not trying to do too much. I've started to realize to trust all my teammates and that's important."
Important enough for his immediate supervisor to take note. Joe Girardi noted before the game that A-Rod that allowed himself to have fun. "I hear him laughing every day," Girardi said. "I mean, and it's laughing loud. It brings a lot of joy to me to hear our players enjoying each other and having fun. I just believe he's poised to have a good postseason run." A-Rod took a major first step Wednesday night. Those hits were not window dressing and the reaction was anything but lip service.
"I always feel that hitters are not always going to have great nights," Girardi said. "They're going to bounce back. Alex has been done it all year for us, so if he doesn't get a hit tonight am I concerned? No. But he had some big hits tonight, both of them with two outs."
"All you can do is go up there and swing the bat, hopefully hit the ball hard," Jeter said. "You can't really guide it. He had a big game today. Expect him to continue it."