NEW YORK – Just so he doesn't have to say it anymore as the New York Yankees romp their way to the World Series, here is a mashup of Alex Rodriguez's(notes) talking points to explain why he's playing like the new Mr. October.
He wants to "simplify things," allowing him to "stay in the moment," particularly since there are "no expectations," which allows him to be "in a good place."
The first three are bunk, of course. Nothing about baseball is simple, every moment has tentacles that jut outward and the day the highest-paid athlete in history plays to no expectations will be the first.
The stuff about being in a good place, though? Oh, yeah. Rodriguez is there, all right.
Gone is the past, Rodriguez's game-tying home run in an eventual 4-3 victory over Los Angeles in the 13th inning of the American League Championship Series' Game 2 tossing perhaps the final shovelful of dirt on its burial. In a postseason of brilliance, this was Rodriguez's most luminescent moment: As midnight beckoned and a heavy rain pelted Yankee Stadium in the 11th inning, he stepped in Saturday night with a pair of Punch-and-Judy hitters behind him, facing an 0-and-2 count, and willed Brian Fuentes'(notes) ill-advised fastball over the right-field wall and into a jubilant sea of Yankees fans that can get used to the new paradigm.
A-Rod the hero.
"I know you guys are probably looking for something profound," Rodriguez said. "I mean, I'm just in a good place. I'm seeing the ball and I'm hitting it. I mean, that's about it."
Hand it to the guy: He's learned the fine art of deflection. It's clever, really. Four meaningless clichés, hand fed to A-Rod by his public-relations handlers, meant to divert attention from the miasma of drama that heretofore surrounded him. Were Rodriguez not in the midst of an all-time great postseason – and this home run, his second this postseason to salvage a game, cinches that even though the Yankees aren't halfway to a championship – he could trot out the same words to explain his failures.
In the past, Rodriguez didn't learn from his mistakes. He worsened them. The self-doubt gnawed, the pain of miserable postseasons in 2005, '06 and '07 palpable. He tried to explain why it was so, how he felt. His words ended up wrapping him in a mental straitjacket.
No longer is this about his bugaboos. He's still a steroid cheat, and he always will be, and few seem to care. He keeps his relationship with Kate Hudson low-key, or at least lower than his dalliance with Madonna. He keeps a coy profile in the clubhouse. Had Rodriguez realized a decade ago that muzzling himself is so effective, he'd have saved himself a metric ton of grief.
It helps, of course, that Rodriguez is finding his success at such timely moments. The home run off Minnesota closer Joe Nathan(notes) in Game 2 of the AL division series saved the Yankees from heading to Minneapolis without home-field advantage intact. He hit another game-tying home run off Carl Pavano(notes) as the Yankees finished their sweep of the Twins. And the home run Saturday night allowed the game to continue into Sunday morning, where the Yankees' bullpen held strong, shaking off errors and other sloppiness that mirrored the weather, and waited for an Angels flub in the 13th that allowed Jerry Hairston Jr.(notes) to score the winning run at 1:07 a.m. and send New York cross-country possessing a 2-0 series lead.
"When Al hit that home run," Hairston said, "we knew in the dugout we were going to do something special."
It's so novel, this idea of Rodriguez's success driving the Yankees. He missed the season's first month after hip surgery. He returned to a clubhouse filled with dominant personalities who let him blend in the background. Never did Rodriguez's persona get in the way of the 15 walkoff wins in the regular season and the whipped-cream pies to the face A.J. Burnett(notes) delivered and the WWE championship belt passed around the clubhouse to the day's hero. A-Rod, remarkably, enhanced it.
"The fact that I'm out there playing baseball is a miracle," Rodriguez said, and if he wants to attribute this to something divine, so be it. Nothing else could get him to hit in the past three postseasons, and certainly not deliver as he has.
Rodriguez, with one swing, allowed Burnett's wildness and manager Joe Girardi's misuse of his bullpen and Derek Jeter's(notes) eighth-inning error and the Yankees blowing a chance to win in the ninth and Alfredo Aceves'(notes) surrendering an RBI single to Chone Figgins(notes) – carrying an 0-for-19 postseason streak – to fade into the ether. Just as, in a way, Hairston's scamper home let Rodriguez off the hook from a flyout with the bases loaded in the 12th.
Hairston, in fact, is something of an anti-Rodriguez. He's a utilityman who has played every position but pitcher and catcher. He owns four gloves. Girardi saved him for the 13th as a just-in-case guy. He spent the game getting up and down, hitting in the batting cage only to return to the bench, yearning for his first postseason at-bat after 11 full seasons in the major leagues.
Before Hairston's pinch-hit at-bat, Anthony Flynn, the Yankees' video coordinator, looked at him and said, "Luis Sojo." He was the utility player throughout the late '90s dynasty whose heroics in the 2000 World Series keep his name fresh in Yankees lore. Hairston banged a single into center field, moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt and ran home when Angels second baseman Maicer Izturis'(notes) poor throw flew past shortstop Erick Aybar(notes) and Figgins couldn't recover in time to throw home.
The pile quickly enveloped Hairston. In it was Jeter, who hit his 19th career postseason home run, and David Robertson(notes), the rookie reliever who now has as many wins this postseason (two) as he did in the regular season, and Rodriguez, whom Hairston envies, and not just for his superior talent.
"I would prefer to be in his role," Hairston said, "because he makes a whole lot more money than I do."
Rodriguez earned $197,530.86 per game this season, compared to Hairston's $12,345.68. And while Hairston basked in the attention of his first playoff glory, Rodriguez continued to play demure amid praise that, this time of year, is unusual.
"He's getting hits," Jeter said.
"Well, Alex is a dangerous hitter," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Especially in … October? Yeah, that's right. And it might be – gulp – Alex Rodriguez's best place yet.