A-Rod finally reaches the biggest stage
Torrid postseason helps put Yankees' slugger in Fall Classic for first time in his career
NEW YORK -- He is the most interesting man in the World Series.
I mean, can a player have a year more intriguing than A-Rod has? It began in the offseason with Joe Torre's book, in which the former Yankees manager said teammates called Alex Rodriguez "A-Fraud" and felt he was obsessed with Derek Jeter. That furor had just about died down when an SI reporter revealed that he had tested positive for steroids. After that came hip surgery that knocked Rodriguez out for the first month of the season. Then he homered on the first pitch after he came off the disabled list. Then he struggled for a while (his batting average was .207 in late June) before finishing strong to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs (levels he's reached for 12 consecutive seasons).
And then -- whew! -- he entirely remade his postseason image from an autumn choker to the latest Mr. October candidate.
So after 16 seasons in the majors, after consoling Joey Cora on the Mariners' bench after the 1995 ALCS, after getting buzzed by Roger Clemens in the 2000 ALCS, after the wrist slap in the 2004 ALCS, after the postseason popups and strikeouts, after the move to the No. 8 hole in the 2006 ALDS, after the contracts, the MVP awards, the books, the back-page tabloid headlines, the women, the steroids -- after everything -- Rodriguez is finally opting for the World Series.
And with that shocker already in the books, it wouldn't have been surprising if A-Rod had spoken fluent French or Russian after Game 6.
"I couldn't be more excited," Rodriguez said to reporters. "I feel like a 10-year-old kid. Pretty incredible, especially with all the stuff I've been through this year."
Let's see. What's left? What could A-Rod possibly do in the World Series to top everything else this year? Call his shot? Take the field by walking out of a cornfield? Have a backlit Kate Hudson stand up in the stands just before A-Rod grabs Wonder Boy and smashes a massive home run that turns the Yankee Stadium video board into an explosion of fireworks?
Or maybe he'll just call a press conference in the middle of Game 7 to announce that his child is floating away in a balloon.
Whatever A-Rod does, it promises to be compelling. After all, this is a man who made a groundout to the pitcher a topic for the water cooler.
"I feared that I wouldn't be able to contribute, so I had a lot of limitations," Rodriguez said of his previous postseasons. "The whole year for me was about trusting my teammates and being one of the guys."
A-Rod's poor playoff reputation always has been somewhat unfair since his postseason OPS has been about the same as Jeter's, but he put an end to it with an outstanding American League Division Series and ALCS. He hit .455 with two home runs, including two game-tying bombs, against the Twins. He hit .429 with three home runs, including a game-tying shot in the 11th inning of Game 2, against the Angels. He reached base safely five times in the Game 6 clincher, singling twice, walking three times and crushing shortstop Erick Aybar with a takeout slide that was nothing like his infamous slap at Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo in the 2004 ALCS.
And now he's going to the World Series. And if he can make it there, well, there may be hope yet for the Cubs.
ALCS: ANGELS VS. YANKEES
Complete coverage of the Angels-Yankees matchup. More
So what advice does Rodriguez need before playing his first World Series game? Stay within himself? Try not to do too much? Enjoy the moment? Zip his fly after leaving the restroom?
"I don't need to tell Alex anything," Johnny Damon said. "He's one of the greatest players of all time. He'll know what to do. We're looking for everyone to step up our game, not just Alex. We're excited right now, we're happy how Alex was able to carry us this series, but the rest of us need to do our jobs."
That may be true, but the focus will be on one player.
The Phillies are attempting to repeat as World Series champions. The Yankees are attempting to win a World Series in their new stadium after winning 26 in their previous ballpark. Cleveland fans are attempting to forget that both scheduled Game 1 starters -- Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia -- won the American League Cy Young for their team. But the man in the spotlight will be the most interesting man in the World Series: A-Rod.
Because after having so much written about him, Rodriguez finally has reached baseball's ultimate chapter.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
ALCS GAME 6: YANKEES 5, ANGELS 2
The wait is over for the Yankees. New York earned its first World Series trip since 2003 and a date with the defending champion Phillies by finishing off the Angels. ALCS page