NEW YORK -- Some 20 minutes after the end of Game 4 of this World Series, a thrilling and, at the time, seemingly backbreaking victory over the Phillies, Johnny Damon stood near his locker and ran down the list of things that went right. There was the pitching of Andy Pettitte, the perfection of Mariano Rivera and Damon's own baserunning prowess. There were a lot of things, really.
"And Alex," Damon said, grinning. "Alex Rodriguez came up big for us."
And that continues to be the key.
After four weeks strutting across the greatest stage he has ever seen, Rodriguez is making a major impact on this postseason. He is still winning games for the Yankees, as he was in the American League Division Series and Championship Series. He is still altering the way pitchers and managers attack the Yankees. He continues to be a force, towing his reputation in a way that others cannot.
"When I get good pitches to hit and I put a good swing on it," Rodriguez said, "good things usually happen."
In Games 3, 4 and 5, the Citizens Bank Park crowd in Philadelphia let out a collective yelp every time Phillies pitchers retired the Yankees' third hitter, Mark Teixeira -- 11 times in all in the Series for the slumping first baseman. And every time, without fail, the crowd instantly and momentarily fell silent at the presence of Rodriguez, before jumping into a chorus of boos and chants.
Equal parts fear, respect and repugnance filtered through those jeers. Such is life for one of the greatest players of a generation.
On three of the four occasions in which Teixeira reached base via a hit, a walk or a hit batsman in Philadelphia, he scored. On all three occasions, Rodriguez delivered a hit behind him, twice personally driving Teixeira home. So defined by his postseason limitations in the past, Rodriguez has spent this autumn making a mockery of them.
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"Alex has had an uncanny ability to every time I draw a walk or I do get one hit a game, he drives me in," Teixeira said. "It's unbelievable. I get hit by a pitch, he drives me in. I get a walk, he drives me in. I hit a double, he drives me in. He's just been doing a great job of picking me up all series."
And the Yankees need him now more than ever.
"It's a great feeling whenever he's swinging the bat well," manager Joe Girardi said. "I don't care what time of year it is. He's swung the bat really well the last three games and he seems very relaxed. He seems like he's in a great place, and we know that at any point he's up there, he can be a difference-maker."
As little as one game remains in the World Series, or as many as two. Even for those Yankees who have been there, done that, these games will rank among the biggest of their careers.
For someone such as Rodriguez, who prior to this October had played more regular-season games without reaching the World Series than all but one active big leaguer, they are without question the apex of his career.
Now is not the time to regress.
The Yankees need Rodriguez to be the man who hit .438 with five homers over the first two rounds of the postseason, rather than the one who went 0-for-8 with six strikeouts over the first two games of the World Series. They need him to be the man who, as Damon recounted by his locker, hit a game-winning RBI double in the ninth inning Sunday, part of a 4-for-10 tear with three doubles, three runs scored and six RBIs in Philadelphia -- not the one who drove in one run over his previous three postseasons combined.
Those Octobers generated a volume of conversation that hardly even seems to matter anymore. There is no use discussing how Rodriguez feels relaxed, as he and his teammates have insisted now for the better part of a month. There is no use crooning about how his postseason demons are behind him, because the past is the past for a reason.
All the Yankees care about is that Rodriguez hits, because he remains the best hitter they employ. That is why they inked him to a new contract two winters ago, the value of which could rocket up to $300 million if certain incentives are reached. That is why they surrounded him with a cast of some of the best hitters in baseball.
In terms of sheer talent, Rodriguez tops all of them. And for two more games, the Yankees need that talent to translate onto the field.
"Alex is the best player I've ever seen," catcher Jorge Posada said. "He does a lot of things well. He's being able to adjust to the pitches the Philadelphia team is giving him. He did the same thing with Minnesota. He did the same thing with the Angels. So doing what he's doing, I'm glad he's doing it."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.