By the time all is said and done, and Alex Rodriguez retires from the game of baseball–whether he truly does walk away this year or tries to latch on with another team to prove Hal Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi wrong and get his ultimate evil revenge–he will still be known as one of the most polarizing figures in the history of all sports.
Alex’s reputation fluctuates almost year-to-year. From selfish to selfless; from humble to prima donna; from an all-time great to an all-time cheat, he’s been all of the above at one time or another.
Another reputation he earned early in his Yankees career was that he was the anti-Derek Jeter when it came to clutch situations. Much like you always knew Jeter would get that big hit, or hit that big home run in a big spot, after a couple of post season failures, Alex earned a reputation for wilting under October pressure. If Jeter was Mr. November, AROD might has well have been Mr. April-September.
Whether the perception was accurate, or just bad luck that struck at the worst possible times, it was something Alex carried with him into the 2009 playoffs. Despite the two MVPs he’d won with the Yankees to that point, the only way to truly become a True Yankee™ was to get a big hit to win a big game, and Alex simply hadn’t done that on the biggest stage yet.
After missing the post season in 2008, The Yankees reached deep into the Steinbrenner coffers and added reinforcements. They signed Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett off the open market and acquired Nick Swisher in a trade with the White Sox. In 2009, they won 103 games and finished 8 games in front of the second place Red Sox in the East.
The opening round match up was a familiar one for the Bombers, as they took the field against the Minnesota Twins, whom they’d beaten in the playoffs in 2003 and 2004 (and would beat again in 2010 to run their post season record against the Twinkies to 12-2).
Alex got his redemption song underway in the first game of the series by going 2-4 with 2 RBI and a run in a 7-2 Yankees win, but he saved the big time drama for Game 2. The Yankees sent Burnett (who’d had an extremely rocky first year in pinstripes) to the hill agains Nick Blackburn in Game 1, which remained scoreless until the top of the sixth, when Brendan Harris tripled off of Burnett to give the Twins a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth, Alex gave us the first inkling that this post season would be different from others. With two on, and two out, he singled to left to score Jeter and knot the score at 1. Was this just a lucky hit for the slugger, or were the winds starting to shift in his favor?
The winds shifted again in the top of the 8th, but, after Nick unto and Denard Span had two-out RBI singles, the Yankees stood down wind of a 3-1 deficit. After a scoreless bottom of the eighth and top of the ninth, the Twins brought in their famed closer, Joe Nathan, to shut the door on Game 2 and snatch back the momentum as the teams prepared to travel to Minnesota.
Teixeira wasted no time in making things interesting, singling to right off of the fireballer to start the frame. That brought up Alex, who had already tied the game once on the night.
Unfortunately, Alex didn’t want to just keep the rally going. He decided to be the whole god damn rally.
He spit on the first three pitches from Nathan, and was quickly ahead on the count three balls and no strikes. After Alex took a courtesy strike on the fourth pitch, Nathan made one of the biggest mistakes of his career on the fifth pitch.
Alex, and pretty much everyone in the park, knew it was gone from the moment he hit it. He tossed the bat away, looked into the Yankees dugout and started jogging.
The game was tied, and Alex had a bonafide October True Yankee™ moment to write home about. Who’s not clutch now, bitches?
The Yankees would go on to win that game when another retiring former All-Star, Teixeira, provided one of the marquee moments of his own career–a walk-off solo homer in the bottom of the 11th.
Alex would go on to homer again in Game 3 (a 4-1 Yankees sweep-clinching win). For the series, he hit .455/.500/1.000 with 2 homers and 6 RBI. He also terrorized the Angels in the ALCS, hitting .429/.567/.952 with 3 homers and 6 more RBI (including a game-tying homer in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 2).
He slowed down a bit in the World Series, but still hit a homer and drove in six on the way to his first and only World Series title. Redemption complete.
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