Every baseball fan that has followed the 2009 postseason — especially the path of the Yankees — knows that one of the major story lines underpinning New York's push to a 27th World Series title has been A-Rod's road to redemption. And thus far, that story has been a positive one, with Alex morphing into a Reggie Jackson facsimile, batting .455 with two home runs and six RBIs against the Twins in the ALDS.
Most importantly they were clutch hits. First A-Rod led the Yanks to a romp of the Twins in Game 1 with a couple of RBIs. The next day he tied the game twice in Game 2 with an RBI single in the sixth and a two-run homer off closer Joe Nathan in the eighth. And for his finale Alex blasted an incredibly clutch, game-tying home run in the seventh inning of Game 3 that helped the Yankees break into the Minnesota bullpen, and ultimately put the series away for good. But even given all of Alex's uncharacteristic clutch work in the ALDS, this is starting to get ridiculous.
Saturday night's game was the kind of epic 13-inning battle that rips out the losing team's hearts. Playing deep into the night with cold rain pouring down upon the players in waves, the Yankees and Angels held deadlocked at 2-2 behind rugged starting performances by AJ Burnett and especially Anaheim hurler Joe Saunders. Forging into extra innings, the tension continued to build throughout the game as great pitching from both bullpens created exciting highs and inevitable lows for the two legions of fans, with both teams unable to break through despite ample opportunities.
It was the Angels who struck first in extra-inning play when Chone Figgins singled in Gary Matthews, Jr. in the top of the eleventh. It was a run on an increasingly cool, rainy, and late night, that may have defused a team with less tenacity. Even the New York faithful that braved the weather and their own fatigue showed signs of dejection.
But never fear, Yankee fans, for the new A-Rod 2.0 is here, and this time he's programmed for success in the clutch. With his club down one run and facing a heart-wrenching loss that would result in a home split before going out West, Alex clobbered a game tying, laser-beam of a home run to rightfield off of Brian Fuentes, snatching New York from the jaws of defeat and further burying the perception of him as a perennial postseason goat.
During the marathon that ensued from the opening pitch on Saturday the Yankees showed off all of the aspects that have put them in there most legitimate position to make a run at a World Series title in nine years. Their bullpen was outstanding, allowing only one run over 6 2/3 innings spread out
over eight pitchers. Burnett turned in a solid start (two runs on three hits over 6 1/3), but it was Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Mariano Rivera, Alfredo Aceves (to a lesser extent), Damaso Marte, and ultimately Dave Robertson (who got the win) that kept the team consistently in a position to grab the victory, waiting for the moment of fate that eventually struck in bottom of the 13th.
Their immense depth was also illustrated in the play of bench players Brett Gardner, Jose Molina (who actually started), super utility man/starter Nick Swisher, and traditional utility man Jerry Hairston Jr., all of whom contributed to the victorious effort with Hairston actually scoring the winning run on Maicer Izturis' throwing error. The Captain came through once again, adding his own opposite field solo-shot in the third inning. And the ending was dramatic, as it has been so many times this season.
But even as one of the better games in recent playoff history played out into the early Bronx morning on the national stage, the main spotlight continued to focus on the exploits of Alex Rodriguez. And for the first time in a long time, the light cast has been positive.