Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mountain Removed From A-Rod's Shoulders

He laughed. He cried. He smiled. He hugged. And he had to breathe a sigh of relief. Alex Rodriguez has been called many things, a lot of them unkind, but now he can finally be called a champion.

Unfairly saddled with the blame for the Yankees epic 2004 ALCS collapse, A-Rod busted out of his post-season doldrums and had an October and November for the ages. He not only won his first World Series title, but was an integral part of said title.

Back in Spring Training this probably all seemed like a pipe dream for the three time AL MVP. First there was the revelation, and all the scrutiny that followed, that he took steroids during his time with the Texas Rangers. Then came the devastating blow to the Yankees regular season chances when it was announced A-Rod would need to undergo hip surgery and would miss a good chunk of the beginning of the season.

But maybe his first at-bat of the regular season was an omen for things to come. It was May 8 at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Rodriguez jumped on the very first pitch he saw from the Orioles Jeremy Guthrie and hammered it into the left field seats. Less than two weeks later he homered six times in eight games. It seemed like everything was coming up "a-roses". Then the expected rust began to show and A-Rod was hitting just .233 at the end of June.

But the Yankees began winning. With A-Rod providing protection for him, Mark Teixeira returning to his raking ways. And A-Rod relaxed. He let his proverbial hair down. He enjoyed the game again. And he put the team ahead of himself. Some props clearly have to go out to actress Kate Hudson, who it seems has been a good influence on the slugger.

Rodriguez hit .310 after the All-Star break and used one magical inning on the regular season's final day in Tampa Bay (2 HR, 7 RBI) to reach 30 home runs and 100 RBI for the 12th straight season. The Yankees won the AL East, A-Rod was smacking the ball around the yard again, but still the question lingered. Could A-Rod finally shake the demons that had haunted his last 3 1/2 post-seasons? It didn't take long to find out.

He drove in two runs in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins. Two days later he hit a game tying 2-run home run in the 9th against Joe Nathan. The Yankees finished off the sweep in the Twin-Cities as Rodriguez went deep again.

Next came the challenge of the arch nemesis Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. With the Angels looking to even the series at a game piece, Rodriguez came through in the clutch again. Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the 11th, Rodriguez went deep off closer Brian Fuentes to tie the game. The Yankees would win in 13 innings for a commanding 2-0 lead in the ALCS. The Yankees took the series four games to two as their third baseman reached base safely all five times he came to the plate in Game 6.

The World Series started off miserably for Rodriguez as struck out six times in eight at-bats. But he hit .400 over the final four games with a home run, 6 RBI, a steal, a pair of walks, and was hit by a pitch three times. He got the Yankees back in Game 3 with a clutch 2-run shot and drove in the game winner in Game 4. The Yankees were winning and Alex Rodriguez was right in the middle of it.

He was right in the middle of it last night too. Hoisting the World Series trophy that had been so elusive for so long. I dare anyone to now say that Alex Rodriguez is not a true Yankee.

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