Commentary

A-Rod's home run deserves a replay

Game-changing shot adds to Yankees slugger's season of dramatic events

Originally Published: October 31, 2009
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Naturally, because this was A-Rod, it couldn't be just a simple home run.

Oh, no. Nothing is ever easy and straightforward with this guy. Absolutely nothing. So his first World Series home run Saturday night required an argument, an umpire conference, the use of replay, a reversed call … heck, just about everything except Jeffrey Maier.

"It's only fitting, right?" Alex Rodriguez said.

Indeed it was. After all, 2009 has been A-Rod's personal reality show, better known as "Alex & Kate Plus 28 (Counting Coaches)." The home run simply added to Rodriguez's 2009 saga that already included Joe Torre's book, the steroids revelations, the hip surgery, the Kate Hudson relationship, his superb second half, his extraordinary postseason … and then came the latest episode of Days of Our A-Rod in which Rodriguez homered to spark a Yankees rally, made a throwing error, was hit by not one but two pitches and helped make World Series history.

Rodriguez was unstoppable in the first two rounds of the postseason but struggled in the first two games of the World Series, going hitless in eight at-bats and striking out six times. But just as his critics were probably getting ready to blast him for never hitting when it really, really, really matters -- "Hey, anyone can hit .439 with five home runs, 12 RBIs and a 1.515 OPS during the division series and LCS, but the real test comes in the World Series" -- he ended his brief struggle with a fourth-inning home run in Game 3 off Phillies starter Cole Hamels.

A-Rod's home run initially appeared to be a double off the top of the fence that left runners at second and third. The Yankees, however, were convinced otherwise and insisted the umpires review the play.

"The ball hit something hard, solid and in my judgment, it was the top of the fence," right-field umpire Jeff Nelson said. "And then when Joe Girardi came out, Joe said, 'We think it hit a fan.' I said, 'It didn't hit a fan, it hit something solid. But we'll talk about it.' We talked about it and decided to use the replay."

[+] EnlargeUmps
John Munson/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireYankees manager Joe Girardi waits as he watches the umpires huddle and discuss Alex Rodriguez's home run ball.

The umps have had a brutal postseason, but they got things right this time. Using replay for the first time in World Series history, the umpires saw that A-Rod's fly ball struck not the wall but a television camera mounted on top of the wall.

The camera extended beyond the fence and over the playing field, but crew chief Gerry Davis stressed this made no difference under stadium ground rules. "Because we cannot control what the cameraman does with the camera, one of the specific ground rules is that when the ball hits the camera, it's a home run."

Hamels had yet to give up a hit to that point, but he retired just three batters after the home run while the Yankees rallied for five runs in the next two innings.

"Alex really got us going with that home run," Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon said. "Two quick runs on the board with one swing of the bat. That's what our team has been really successful at all year."

A-Rod's home run was important not just because it helped dig the Yankees out of a 3-0 deficit in the game but also because it probably helped remove whatever pressure Rodriguez might have been feeling after the two hitless games. Not that he necessarily was feeling any pressure.

"I tell you what, Alex is really relaxed," Yankees infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. said. "The first two games, you have to give credit to Pedro [Martinez] and Cliff Lee. They made some great pitches on him. But his attitude has been the exact same in here. He's confident, and he knows his time will come whether it's Game 2, Game 3, Game 4 -- his time is coming."

Said Rodriguez, "I thought the first two games I got pitched tough, but I also helped out the opposing pitchers by swinging at balls that were borderline and not strikes. And the game plan today was to swing at strikes and to keep them in the zone, like I've been talking about all postseason."

Back in the 2000 ALCS, Roger Clemens buzzed Rodriguez with a fastball that left the hitter virtually useless the rest of the game. The Phillies hit Rodriguez twice -- in the first inning and again in the seventh -- but pitching him inside had no evident effect on him. Perhaps it even got him going.

Or maybe it was the home run that did it. Slumping players often say that all it takes is one hit to get them going. That certainly was the case for Rodriguez when this postseason began.

"It's obviously nice to get [the first hit] out of the way," Rodriguez said. "It's like the first hit I got this postseason against Minnesota. That got me going a little bit. … Overall, I think after I got that first hit against Minnesota, to be quite honest, I started feeling a lot more comfortable, and then the hits kept coming and we kept winning."

What's next? Hitting for the cycle? An unassisted triple play? A date with Octomom? Well, the World Series now enters November, so there is always the possibility of being named Mr. November. Just about everything else has happened to him this year.

"I think overall after spring training and all the stuff I went through, I felt like I was up against the wall,' Rodriguez said. "I hit rock bottom, and I was either going to stay there or come out fighting. Overall, I felt like this season I had no expectation and nothing to lose. I basically sold out for the team, and with my limitations in my hip, I just wanted to come out and do the best I can, and that's what I did."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com