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Alex the late looks great; HR in 11th amazes

Alex the late looks great

NEW YORK -- Jeff Mathis wanted the pitch to Alex Rodriguez up and away. Very up, and very away. And in one sense, the Angels' catcher got his wish.

Up, up and away went the ball, and with it went the Angels' lead.

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"I tried to elevate the ball on him," Angels closer Brian Fuentes said of his 0-2 pitch A-Rod crushed over the right-field wall for a game-tying homer in the bottom of the 11th on Saturday. "Obviously, it wasn't elevated enough."

For the Angels, it was enough only to keep Game 2 of the American League Championship Series going -- and going and going, until the Yankees finally busted through for a 4-3 win in the 13th. For Rodriguez, it was simply reaffirmation of his status as an October cartoon superhero.

In five postseason games this season, Rodriguez is now hitting .368 with three home runs and eight RBIs. He became the first player in the Yankees' stories postseason history to drive in a run in the first five games of a postseason. And all eight of the RBIs have come on hits that have either tied a game or put the Yankees ahead. Not to mention that Saturday's shot was his second game-tying homer in the ninth inning or later.

Rodriguez is the third player in postseason history to hit a game-tying extra-inning homer, joining Houston's Billy Hatcher (1986 NLCS, Game 6) and Cleveland's Albert Belle (1995 ALDS, Game 1).

And he's the fourth player with two or more game-tying or go-ahead homers in the ninth inning or later in one postseason, joining Boston's David Ortiz (2004) and Dave Henderson (1986) and the Dodgers' Kirk Gibson (1988).

In fact, each of A-Rod's homers has come in the seventh inning or later and has either erased a deficit, broken a tie or put the Yankees in the lead. According to Elias, the only other player that has hit three such home runs in a single postseason was Troy Glaus with the Angels in 2002.

And all that, lest anyone forget, from a player who barely a week ago was widely considered a postseason goat.

"I know you guys are probably looking for something profound," Rodriguez said. "I'm just in a good place. I'm seeing the ball and I'm hitting it. That's about it."

Home run heroes
Players with two or more game-tying or go-ahead homers in the ninth inning or later in one postseason
Player Team Year
Alex Rodriguez NYY 2009
David Ortiz BOS 2004
Kirk Gibson LAD 1988
Dave Henderson BOS 1986

Sure. That, the simplest form, will have to do. It's the only way Rodriguez can explain this clutch-hitting power binge, this remarkable run that has buoyed him since the start of October.

Prior to this postseason, Rodriguez had left 38 consecutive runners on base over the span of 59 fruitless postseason at-bats. Dating back to Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, he had homered just once in the postseason, in a 2007 game that cut his team's deficit against the Indians to three.

But just like that, Rodriguez has now reversed every previous October struggle, morphing into the man the Yankees most want to see at the plate in big spots.

"The feeling is that he's going to do it," Saturday's starting pitcher, A.J. Burnett, said. "He's so himself right now. He's being himself, he's acting like himself, he's having fun and it's showing. I haven't been here in the past, but since I've been here, he rakes in October."

He also rakes against the Angels. The solo shot was Rodriguez's 68th career home run against the Halos, the most by any active player against any one team. It also came on an 0-2 count, representing no small feat. In the regular season, Rodriguez hit .194 in such situations.

AL Championship Series
Gm. 1 NYY 4, LAA 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 NYY 4, LAA 3 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 LAA 5, NYY 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 NY 10, LAA 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 LAA 7, NYY 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 6 NYY 5, LAA 2 Wrap Video

Rodriguez's run has been remarkable, even more remarkable when put in the context of the right hip surgery he underwent in Spring Training. But the Yankees knew he had healed from that just fine when he managed to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs over an abbreviated regular season.

What they didn't know was whether or not he would freeze again in October.

Now they have their answer.

"It's pretty unbelievable what he's done for us so far," manager Joe Girardi said. "I talked about it before the playoffs started that I thought he was in a great place. He's been huge for us."

If there was any worry that Rodriguez might falter as the stakes grow greater, he answered it in Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS. This is the new A-Rod, after all, one who seems primed to do this again and again and again.

"I'm going to do what I've done all year -- try to stay in the moment and really enjoy the moment," Rodriguez said. "I know I had a blast out there today. That was a great game. That's what I've been doing all year."

But it means a whole lot more right now.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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