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Personal reflections of Alex Rodriguez’s 2009 postseason

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The 2009 postseason was a lot of fun for Yankee fans and Alex Rodriguez’s performance was a large part of it. In this piece, I tell some stories about the games in which he contributed in a big way and how the memories from that postseason hold a special place in my heart.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

On the evening of October 7, 2009, I was attending my first playoff game in new Yankee Stadium. I was wrestling with my usual playoff nerves and battling the eruptions on my face that always surfaced once the calendar flipped to the 10th month of the year. My skin had always seemed to be a casualty of the Yankees’ enormous success, and for nearly 15 straight years it reverted back to my teenage days. In some years, the eruptions lasted the entire month and in others, they would just be visible the first week or so.

When the Yankees failed to make the playoffs in 2008, it was my first break from the annual breakout since 1995, and while it was a bit of a relief, it was also unfamiliar territory for me. When the Yankees triumphantly returned to the playoffs the following year, I almost welcomed the sight of the red blotches on my face. It meant that there would be more baseball for me to watch, to agonize over, and hopefully by the time November rolled around, I would be celebrating. So, before leaving for Game One of the American League Division Series, I braced myself for a month that would be stressful.

I also braced myself for Alex Rodriguez’s performance. No, let me rephrase that. I was actually bracing myself for my fellow fans’ reactions to Alex Rodriguez’s performance, because there is a very big difference between the two. For years, I had defended Rodriguez from the vitriol of the “four ringers” who always referenced players like Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius as the pantheon of playoff performers. The four ringers were blinded by those names almost to the point of raging about them anytime Rodriguez came up “short” in the playoffs. To them, Alex Rodriguez was solely to blame for the playoff failures of the mid-2000s, never mind the team sport nature of the game, and the comparably poor performance of other Yankees players. Even Martinez (.233/.321/.351, nine HR, and 38 RBI) and Brosius (.245/.278/.418, eight HR, and 30 RBI) with their well-known and much-discussed playoff heroics had worse numbers than Rodriguez (.259/.365/.457, 13 HR and 41 RBI) for their career in the playoffs.

Adding further drama, 2009 saw Rodriguez’s steroid admission before the season began, though if fans really believe their beloved dynasty teams were otherwise clean, I have about 25 New York City area bridges to sell them. The playoffs also followed A-Rod’s early-season hip surgery. He missed the first month of 2009 and returned to the lineup by hitting the first pitch he saw for a home run against Baltimore. That moment alone (not to mention his stellar 138 OPS+ on the year) should have enticed Yankees fans for what was to come in October and November, but sometimes people are stubborn and don’t want to believe that good things are possible.

***

I was sitting in section 334 of new Yankee Stadium, the last section in left field. It overlooks the bleachers to the left and it’s a very interesting vantage point for games because you feel as if you are floating in the air and a baseball game just happens to be occurring beneath you. I was there that night with my brother, who was with me at every playoff game. We sat down, watched the pregame ceremonies and waited for the game to begin.

Rodriguez strode to the plate in the bottom of the first as the fourth batter of the game. Derek Jeter had led off with a single, Johnny Damon popped out to second, and Mark Teixeira grounded out to short (advancing Jeter to second). A-Rod saw five pitches from Brian Duensing and ended up flying out to right to end the inning. As soon as the ball was caught, a man in my section started going off on A-Rod about how awful he is and how it’s the “same ol’ A-Rod!” because he made an out.

I shook my head and bit my lip. I wasn’t going to get into a screaming match with a man 20+ years my senior. At least not in the bottom of the first inning.

A-Rod’s second at bat came in the bottom of the third with two outs. Jeter had homered to tie the game at two earlier in the inning. Rodriguez saw six pitches from Duensing and struck out with Teixeira at first.

The man, who had more drinks in him by this point, was ranting about A-Rod. Even going so far as standing up and leaning forward, while yelling nasty things over the people sitting in front of him as if Alex could hear him from our section all the way out in left field.

In the bottom of the fifth, Jeter got on base, yet again, he walked on six pitches, and after Damon grounded to first—Jeter advanced to second—and Teixeira popped out to second, A-Rod came to bat. This time, Rodriguez didn’t take any pitches. He hit the first one he saw into left field for a single and Jeter scored. It was an RBI single, but it wasn’t good enough for the gray haired, angry man in my section. The Yankees were already up 3-2 thanks to Nick Swisher’s double in the fourth inning, so A-Rod’s single was meaningless and the RBI was just an “add on.”

The bottom of the seventh was nearly a repeat of the bottom of the fifth. Rodriguez came to bat with Jeter on base—at third this time—and he hit a single to make the score 7-2. He finished the game 2-4 with two RBI but that wasn’t enough. A lot of the four ringers like to claim that Alex Rodriguez only gets “big hits” when the games are already at hand and the angry old man in Section 334 said as much as we were walking out, celebrating a game one victory. I finally said something to him because I couldn’t take it anymore. I, in no uncertain terms, told him how silly he was being and went on my merry way home.

Two nights later, I didn’t have tickets to the game, so I was at home watching it with my father. Twins’ starter Nick Blackburn was cruising for the first five innings of Game Two—no one in the Yankees’ lineup could do much of anything against him. Then the bottom of the sixth happened. Jorge Posada led off with a fly ball to left and it looked as though the sixth would be the same as the previous five innings. Then Jeter hit a ground rule double and Damon followed with a walk. The Yankees finally had something going. Teixeira hit a fly ball to left for the second out and in stepped Rodriguez to face Blackburn—he had popped out and grounded out in his first two at bats. After a first pitch ball, Rodriguez hit the second pitch into left for a single to tie the game at one. If you are keeping track, all of A-Rod’s hits have been RBI hits to this point in the 2009 playoffs. Sure it was only two games, and they were all singles to left, but he wasn’t done that night.

When the bottom of the ninth started, the Yankees found themselves down two runs, and the Twins found themselves in unfamiliar territory. They actually had a good chance of stealing a game from the Yankees in the playoffs. Up to that point, the Yankees had beaten the Twins in the Division Series twice—2003 and 2004—and were 6-2 against them in the playoffs.

As we were watching the commercials between the top and the bottom of the ninth, my dad turned to me and said, “Tex will hit a single and A-Rod will tie the game. Book it.” I laughed and told him that there was nothing I’d love more. When Teixeira singled off Twins’ closer Joe Nathan to start the inning, I looked over at my dad and he said, “See? Now Alex will hit one out.” As a little girl, you believe everything your daddy tells you. He is the sun and the moon and the stars, and everything he says is gospel and I wanted more than anything to believe my dad that night; to believe in his ability to be right about things as they pertained to baseball and I wanted more than anything to have his ability to believe that good things were afoot. But I didn’t get that gene. I had been given the “everything is terrible, pessimistic” gene from someone in our family tree.

Rodriguez worked the count to 3-1 against Nathan and then my dad’s Nostradamus moment came to pass. A-Rod deposited the ball into the Yankees’ bullpen to tie the game at three. As the ball was traveling through the air, I jumped out of my chair and started yelling, “Go! Go! Go! Go! Wooooo!” then I gave my quite-pleased-with-himself dad a high five. We celebrated a couple of innings later when Teixeira walked the Yankees off with a home run to left.

The Yankees advanced to the American League Championship series after sweeping the Twins. Rodriguez finished 5-12 with two home runs, and six RBI, and he batted .455/.500/.1000 in those three games.

And you would think that the four ringers wouldn’t find something to complain about, but they did. They always do.

The Yankees were going to be facing their nemesis, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, in the ALCS. In both 2002 and 2005 the Angels dispatched the Yankees in the American League Division Series so this matchup was a tad frightening for Yankee fans. Yes, the rosters were different, but it always seemed like weird things happened against Anaheim. But, on the other hand, the championship series is seven games in duration, not five, and if those weird things happened in a seven game series, the Yankees could potentially recover from them.

Before the series even began, I had a Mets fan co-worker razzing me about how the Angels “always” beat the Yankees and that the Yankees were going down. Where were the Mets that year? Oh right, they were at home.

I attended Game Two of the American League Championship Series on October 17. 2009 and was sitting in section 206. That night, I watched as Rodriguez hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the 11th inning. It came after Chone Figgins had put the Angels ahead in the top of the 11th with an RBI double and celebrated while standing on second base as if an Angels’ victory was a forgone conclusion.

Not so fast, Chone.

Just as Rodriguez found himself down 0-2, a man a few seats away from me yelled out, “Earn your paycheck!” just as Angels’ reliever Brian Fuentes was throwing the third pitch of the at bat. Rodriguez apparently has supersonic hearing because he hit Fuentes’ next offering, a high fastball that got way too much of the plate, just over the wall in right field. As Rodriguez made his way around the bases, and after the umps assured him that it was indeed a home run and had cleared the fence, the guy sitting directly to my left yelled out, “Did he earn his paycheck?” I added a colorful word for a part of the male anatomy and then we gave each other a high five.

The Yankees won the game two innings later on a really embarrassing play by the Angels’ infield and once again, Rodriguez was the hero of the game for making the bottom of the 13th possible.

The Yankees beat the Angels in six games and Rodriguez was 9-21 with three home runs, six RBI, eight walks—three intentional—and a stolen base.

If they gave out MVP awards for the division series and championship series, Rodriguez most certainly would have won.

I didn’t get to attend any World Series games in 2009—that was mostly the New York Yankees ticket office’s fault, and I’m still miffed about it all these years later—but I was at a Buffalo Wild Wings the night of Game Three in Philadelphia which had been delayed because of rain and had a 9:17 start time. My brother grabbed a table in the bar section of the restaurant and we watched the game, surrounded by people in Halloween costumes. The funniest costume of the night belonged to a young child no older than 10, who walked by before the game dressed like a blind umpire. He was wearing a polo shirt, trousers, and was wearing sunglasses and a carrying a walking cane.

The Yankees won that game and guess who hit a home run? Yep. Of course it didn’t come without a slight “controversy.” Rodriguez’s ball hit a camera in right field that positioned in a such a way that it was hanging ever-so-slightly over the fence. Before the game it was determined that any ball that hits that camera would be ruled a home run. Obviously Alex Rodriguez would be the culprit, but it was a home run and it pulled to the Yankees to within a run at 3-2. They would tie and pull ahead the next inning thanks to starting pitcher Andy Pettitte who hit an RBI single and Johnny Damon who hit an RBI double to score Pettitte and Jeter.

Rodriguez also had a hand in the Yankees’ game four victory in Philly. The game was tied 4-4 in the top of the ninth inning and and Rodriguez came up to bat with Damon and third and Teixeira on first. He hit the second pitch he saw from closer Brad Lidge to left field for a double and broke the tie. Damon scored and Teixeira advanced to third. The Yankees would go on to win the game 7-4 and win the series in six games.

Rodriguez’s final playoff numbers in 2009: .365/.500/.808 with six home runs and 18 RBI. He also hit five doubles and had 19 total hits.

Not too bad for a playoff choke artist.

***

The night the Yankees won their 27th championship, I was watching the game with my family. After the last out was recorded and the players were running to the middle of the infield to celebrate, my dad didn’t say a word and walked out of the room. My brother looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders. I assumed he was either going to the bathroom or going to bed. My dad then walked out to the garage and came back into the family room a few moments later with a bottle of champagne. He bought it because he knew the Yankees would wrap things up in six games. He poured us all a glass of champagne and we toasted to our Yankees.

2009 was the last championship my dad was alive to see and I wish I could tell Alex Rodriguez how grateful I am to have the memory of watching that game with my dad because if it wasn’t for his performance in the Division Series and Championship Series, the 2009 World Series might not have been possible.

. . .

Stacey Gotsulias is a contributing writer of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on Twitter at @StaceGots.