For A-Rod, a commitment to change leads to becoming a championAfter looking in the mirror, Rodriguez decided it was time for a do-over
Victorino grounded to Robinson Cano at second base. Cano calmly fielded and threw to first, and when ball was secure in Mark Teixeira's glove, A-Rod finally exhaled. He jumped three feet into the air from the naked eye, but 300 feet by his internal tape measure. He was finally a champion, doing something many Hall of Famers - read: Ernie Banks - could never do. Football saw Peyton Manning finally win the big one. Baseball, three years after Albert Pujols got his ring, finally saw its poster/problem child become a champion.
"I'm short on words right now," Rodriguez said during a break from the euphoria, in a quiet media room surrounded by writers. "I'm just enjoying the moment. This is hard to do. I waited a long time for this."
He mentioned 2004, alluding to the hurt he felt for five years, including the '05 ALDS when he admitted he played "like a dog." Rodriguez's postseason futility (8-for-56 in his previous 16 playoff games with one RBI) had become fodder for snide journalists, comedians and talk show hosts. All it took was 15 games - 11 wins - for that track record to be erased. Rodriguez was magnificent, batting .365 (19-for-52) with six home runs and a Yankees-record 18 RBIs while scoring 15 runs and drawing 11 walks. His homers off Joe Nathan and Brian Fuentes saved the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALDS and CS, respectively. His long ball that ricocheted of a television camera in Game 3 of the World Series reversed the Yankees' fortunes in Philadelphia. His hit in Game 4 put a bow on Johnny Damon's nine-pitch at-bat, single and double stolen base.
Green Day often asks, "I hope you had the time of your life." Rodriguez did, at last, and he wasn't ready for it to end. "I wish we can come out and play again tomorrow - for no reason," Rodriguez said. "That's how much we love each other."
Beginning in February when Sports Illustrated broke the story of Rodriguez's usage of performance-enhancing drugs while in Texas from 2001-03, a nightmare that continued with a tense press conference at the Yankees' Spring Training complex in Tampa, Fla., all A-Rod wanted to do was crawl under a rock and never be bothered again.
A subsequent diagnosis of a torn labrum requiring surgery which threatened to sideline Rodriguez for possibly the entire season led to an exile in Vail, Colorado, to rehab in the mountains. Away from the tabloid media that screamed headlines every time he sneezed, Rodriguez looked back on it as a blessing in disguise.
"I looked in the mirror and was honest with myself, and I didn't like what I saw," Rodriguez said. "I had a lot of good friends take me out to lunch and tell me what I needed to hear. I listened and humbled myself, and I started again."
The reset button depressed, Rodriguez returned to the Yankees in Baltimore on May 8 and hit the first pitch he saw over the left field fence. The bomb was nice, a Yankees win was better. Teammates and an organization having A-Rod's back during the lowest point of his life - priceless.
"I started on the absolute bottom," Rodriguez said. "And a lot of people ran hard the other way. I said some things at the press conference in Baltimore, when I came back, and didn't expect anybody to take me at my word - and rightfully so. Overall I stayed to the plan. I had convictions behind my words. I'm a baseball player. That's what I do."
Rodriguez's season ended the way it began, with a home run, driving in three of the seven RBIs that gave him at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs for the 13th time - including the past 12 seasons-despite missing that first month. Not only was he happy for the first time in a long time, he did something he never thought possible as long as he was a Yankee: Nobody can go at it alone, not even Superman.
|"I looked in the mirror and was honest with myself, and I didn't like what I saw. I had a lot of good friends take me out to lunch and tell me what I needed to hear. I listened and humbled myself, and I started again."|
| Alex Rodriguez|
Thanks to his commitment to change and complete trust in others, A-Rod is no longer a big joke. People will no longer talk about him slapping at Bronson Arroyo's glove in 2004, batting .133 in the '05 ALDS, batting eighth in the ill-fated Game 4 of the '06 ALDS, the opt-out during the '07 World Series, or boo him every time he makes out in a big spot. And after what he did against the Twins, Angels and Phillies, you can no longer complain about his ability close and late either.
"He's proven himself now beyond any shadow of a doubt," said Hank Steinbrenner with a hint of an I-told-you-so. Against the wishes of some in the organization, the elder Steinbrenner brother signed off on a contract that paid A-Rod $275 million over 10 years.
"He wasn't even really 100 percent this year with the hip and so forth," Steinbrenner said. "He came through the whole postseason. That home run he hit to make it 3-2 the other night - unreal. That was huge because the Phillies had a 3-0 lead and they're rolling. They're feeling good and, bam, he jacks it, so even if he didn't hit for high average of whatever in this series, he did great. He did fantastic the whole postseason."
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