Yankee slugger A-Rod won his first championship title Wednesday night in the Bronx, capping a remarkable comeback to a season that began with an apology for past steroid use and an injury.
NEW YORK - Both arms raised to the sky, jubilation all over his face, Alex Rodriguez bounced his way to the Yankee Stadium mound.
There were heroes everywhere amidst the celebratory scrum, bopping up and down, exchanging hugs — everybody from incomparable closer Mariano Rivera to World Series MVP Hideki Matsui to longtime pinstriped mainstays Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.
And now, Rodriguez was one of them — a World Series winner for the first time.
“We're standing here as world champions,'' Rodriguez screamed into the public address microphone for everyone in a sold-out stadium to hear. “We're going to enjoy it.''
And well he should. With the burden of past postseason failures lifted, and after a season that began in steroid-laced disgrace, he got the ultimate ending. All that's in the past now, replaced by a new perception, a new validation.
“A lot of people were running the other way, let me tell you,'' Rodriguez said in the clubhouse afterward. “But my teammates, coaches and organization stood right with me. And now we're standing together as world champs. I couldn't be prouder.''
“They meant the world to me. I said (back in spring training) that this is going to turn out to be one of the most special years of my life, and it sure has.
“I feel so proud to be one of the guys, and part of a team that brought (championship number) 27 to New York. It's even better than you could imagine. We've waited a long time, and it feels good.''
Rodriguez's postseason numbers speak just as loudly:
His 18 RBI were the fourth-most all-time in a postseason — one behind the trio of Sandy Alomar (1997), Scott Spiezio (2002) and David Ortiz (2004). And they didn't come in unimportant moments. Eight of them either tied the game or put the Yankees ahead, and he and Ortiz are the only two players with three game-tying or go-ahead RBI hits in the ninth inning or later in a single postseason.
Rodriguez totalled 11 extra-base hits in the postseason, tying the all-time record also held by Willie Stargell (1979), Barry Bonds (2002), Troy Glaus (2002), Carlos Beltran (2004) Matsui (2004) and Larry Walker (2004).
And Rodriguez finished 19 for 52 (.365) with five doubles, six homers and 15 runs scored in 15 games — after coming into this postseason on a 7-for-44 slide compiled in three division series since the Yankees' last ALCS appearance in 2004.
“He's the reason why we're sitting here,'' Johnny Damon said. “I feel like without him, who knows where our road may have stopped at. He's the guy who has the RBI numbers, who's been driving us through the playoffs.''
Added Mark Teixeira: “I get hit by a pitch; Alex drives me in. I draw a walk, he drives me in. I hit a double; he drives me in.''
Rodriguez's World Series numbers weren't as impressive — .250, one home run, six RBI. And in fact, after two games of this series, there was talk again about a return to the failures of postseasons past.
Rodriguez's first eight World Series at-bats: Strikeout, strikeout, groundout, strikeout in a 6-1 loss in Game 1; then strikeout, flyout, strikeout, strikeout in a 3-1 victory. That's 0-for-8 with six strikeouts in Yankee Stadium.
But everything changed with the trip down I-95 to Citizens Bank Park.
Rodriguez's two-run homer in the third inning of Game 3 was a momentum-changer. The Phillies had grabbed a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second against Pettitte, but Rodriguez answered with a memorable, opposite-field shot off a television camera that extended a bit too far over the right-field wall.
It took the first usage of instant replay in the World Series to decide it, overturning the original ruling of a double. And by the fifth inning, the Yankees took the lead and chased Cole Hamels, and hung on for an 8-6 win in the series' pivotal game.
You know the Phillies were fearful of the damage Rodriguez could do by the way they pitched him throughout the series — hard and in — sometimes too far in.
Rodriguez twice was hit by a pitch in Game 3, and then again in his first at-bat in Game 4. Later in that game, he got a measure of revenge with the go-ahead, ninth-inning RBI in the Yankees' 7-4 victory.
“There's no question; I've never had a bigger hit,'' Rodriguez said of the RBI single to left field.
“I made an adjustment after the first two games. What I was doing was very simple; I was expanding the strike zone, and that's something I didn't do against Minnesota or Anaheim. When I get good pitches to hit, and I put a good swing on it, good things usually happen.''
If that sounds like a calmer, more-relaxed Rodriguez than the one who played the worry-wart like no other superstar before him, you're not the first one to notice.
“I wasn't here before this season, so I couldn't tell you how he was before that,'' A.J. Burnett said. “But I know he's about as relaxed as I could imagine him being.
“It doesn't matter what the situation is when he comes up. He's confident, he's loose, and he's hitting the ball, and he's having a blast.''