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A-Rod's A-game could strike back in Philly

A-Rod's A-game could strike back in Philly

PHILADELPHIA -- The effect of Alex Rodriguez's torrid postseason was exhibited with his first intentional walk in the American League Championship Series, yet it has taken until now for the Yankees slugger to come up with the appropriate response.

Going through the paces of a heavy workout Friday afternoon on the eve of Game 3 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park, Rodriguez repeated the mantra "swing at strikes" numerous times in a brief interview with reporters, as though he is trying to drill it home in preparation to face Cole Hamels on Saturday.

"I think what I'm doing is basically swinging at balls that are out of the strike zone," Rodriguez said. "Those balls, you've got to lay off. Basically, you have to swing at strikes, and if not, pass the baton to the next guy."

After an unconscious opening to his postseason, the Phillies have followed suit with what the Angels figured later in the ALCS -- if there wasn't going to be a World Series game in Orange County, Calif., they weren't going to allow A-Rod to be responsible.

Rodriguez has thus found his pitches to be less meaty during his at-bats, and as the Bombers and Phillies split the first two games of the Fall Classic, A-Rod was still searching for his first World Series hit -- now 0-for-8 with an alarming six strikeouts.

There have been 118 three-strikeout games in the World Series, but amazingly, Rodriguez is the first player to have done it consecutively. He struck out just five times combined in the first two playoff rounds.

"We definitely need to pick him up, but as you saw at the end of the Angels series, he just wasn't being pitched to at all," Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said. "If he gets in that zone where he can get a strike, hopefully he can do damage with it. Teams are going into this series and saying, 'Let's not let Alex stay hot. Let's not let him beat us.'"

As Damon spoke, Rodriguez was in an indoor batting cage underneath Citizens Bank Park, taking sweaty hacks under the supervision of hitting coach Kevin Long and trying to get back to the output that saw him hit .424 with five homers and a team-leading 12 RBIs in the ALDS and ALCS.

WORLD SERIES DROUGHT
After hitting .438 in the ALDS and ALCS, Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez is 0-for-8 with six strikeouts in the World Series.
  AB H R BB HR RBIs
ALDS, Game 1 4 2 1 0 0 2
ALDS, Game 2 4 2 1 0 1 3
ALDS, Game 3 3 1 2 1 1 1
ALCS, Game 1 2 1 0 1 0 1
ALCS, Game 2 6 1 1 0 1 1
ALCS, Game 3 4 1 1 1 1 1
ALCS, Game 4 4 3 3 1 1 2
ALCS, Game 5 3 1 1 2 0 0
ALCS, Game 6 2 2 0 3 0 1
WS, Game 1 4 0 0 0 0 0
WS, Game 2 4 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 40 14 10 9 5 12

Rodriguez would soon dart to his locker, grab three bats and disappear to the field uttering only a murmured sentence -- changing little from his season-long approach of work long, speak short. Later, he'd say that his playbook shouldn't need to change all that much from the past few weeks.

"I think the pitching in Minnesota and Anaheim was pretty good," Rodriguez said. "I think it's just a matter of swinging at strikes. When you swing at strikes and you take your walks, you put yourself in a much better situation hitting-wise. That's the key for me."

In a very small sample size, Hamels has enjoyed success against Rodriguez, who has struck out four times in four at-bats against the left-hander, including three times swinging in a May 24 game this season at Yankee Stadium.

"You don't get overconfident," Hamels said. "Alex has won MVP after MVP. He's really good. It's one of those things where they can always hurt you, and especially when you least expect it, so you really have to still be on your game."

Rodriguez said that he is "not concerned at all" after the eight at-bats against Philadelphia pitching, noting that his teammates are helping to carry the load while he tries to get back on track -- Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui each clubbed homers in the 3-1 Game 2 victory on Thursday.

"He's not getting his hits right now," Damon said. "The presence alone with Alex, we know with one swing of the bat he can get us back in the ballgame or extend a lead. We know what he's capable of. We're not worried about where he's at right now. It's a team game. The rest of us need to do our jobs, and hopefully, it can start tomorrow again."

In fairness, Rodriguez hasn't had the easiest customers to face. No one in pinstripes did much against Cliff Lee in his Game 1 shutdown, and Pedro Martinez held A-Rod to just a fourth-inning popup, making him look bad with a sixth-inning changeup that Rodriguez could only laugh about later.

"I feel good. They've made some good pitches," Rodriguez said. "I've missed some pitches and fouled them off. That's it -- I'm ready to go."

But Hamels is no cakewalk either, and Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that those sorts of events are to be expected at this time of year, when pitching staffs are all of championship caliber.

2009 World Series
Gm. 1 PHI 6, NYY 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 NYY 3, PHI 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 NYY 8, PHI 5 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 NYY 7, PHI 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 PHI 8, NYY 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 6 NYY 7, PHI 3 Wrap Video

"It's good pitching," Girardi said. "I mean, [if] you can't expect guys to hit a home run every day and to get two hits every day. I mean, you make your pitches, in most cases, you've got a pretty good chance to get guys out."

Added Derek Jeter: "It's pitching, man. I tell you all the time, it's pitching. You're not going to come in here and sit back and go up there and hit home runs every time you come up, I don't care who you are. It doesn't happen.

"Pitchers aren't going to just throw balls over the middle of the plate and see how far you can hit it. They're going to try to make pitches and execute. Everything gets more and more difficult the later you get in the playoffs."

Rodriguez dismissed the idea that he might be pressing as he plays in the World Series he has waited his entire career to appear in, including his first five seasons in a Yankees uniform. He said that, in a way, the highest stakes were to avoid yet another disappointing first-round exit.

"It works backwards for me," Rodriguez said. "I thought the most intense series was Minnesota, then Anaheim and this one. The most pressure was Minnesota, because obviously, you don't want to go home after five games. For me again, it's about swinging at strikes, and it's nothing different."

Bryan Hoch 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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