Commentary

A-Rod looking like A-Monster

Yankees slugger now a rampaging force, laying waste to Angels in ALCS

Originally Published: October 20, 2009
By Eric Neel | ESPN.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- There was a time, way back in the second week of October, when Alex Rodriguez was a charming character, a heartwarming story.

He had bounced back. Slayed his dragons. Faced his demons. Thrown the postseason monkey off his back.

His teammates were happy for him. His manager gushed about how nice it was to see his slugger so comfortable, so at ease.

Those days are over. Mark it down.

Rodriguez is no longer the fragile psyche who has somehow learned not to press on the big stage. He's not the guy who labored under expectations and finally got off the schneid. And he ain't the cerebral hitter figuring out how to let it flow, either.

He's a thing unleashed. A bad dude gone-off, all malicious thunderclap swings and ruthless follow-throughs.

He's doom and dread for the other guys and cocksure confidence for his teammates every time he steps in the box.

He is, in the dumbstruck words of Yankee manager Joe Girardi on Tuesday night after Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, simply, "Wow."

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesIn seven postseason games, Alex Rodriguez is hitting .407 with five homers and 11 RBI.
Rodriguez hit an 0-1 Scott Kazmir fastball deep over the left-field wall in the fifth inning Tuesday night. It was the third straight postseason game in which he had homered and his fifth home run so far in the 2009 postseason (a seven-game stretch in which he has collected 11 hits, driven in 11 runs and scored nine times).

His 2009 postseason line stands now at .407/.469/1.000 (average/OBP/slugging) and his career postseason line (once a homely, incongruous thing out of step with his otherwise dazzling stats page -- "In other postseasons I failed, and sometimes failed miserably," he said Tuesday) is a suddenly robust .299/.388/.563 as the Yankees head into Game 5 Thursday in Anaheim.

But a rehabilitated back of the baseball card isn't what's most impressive about Rodriguez in these playoffs. What knocks you out is the way he feels so predictably, so inevitably, so frighteningly powerful. He isn't dangerous -- danger implies the possibility of survival -- he's unavoidable, irresistible. He is going to hurt you. He is going to do damage. Ask Kazmir, Jered Weaver and Brian Fuentes how it feels.

"Every time up, you just know he's going to hit the ball hard," Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte said in Tuesday's postgame locker room after Rodriguez went 3-for-4 with a single, double, home run and base on balls. "He just keeps throwing good at-bats up there time after time."

"He's been unbelievable," catcher Jorge Posada said. "There's no question -- he's the best player in the big leagues right now."

Posada will get no argument from Angels manager Mike Scioscia, whose shell-shocked understatement after Game 4 summed up what it's like to face this A-Rod: "He's a heck of a player … we're obviously going to have to do a little better job of making some pitches on him."

It's wonderful to see. I'm diggin it. It's like watching a star in a movie. We all knew he had it in him. And when you see it come out like this, there's a real joy in it.

-- Reggie Jackson about A-Rod
Ryan Howard has dominated the proceedings in the National League playoffs, racking up RBIs in a record eight consecutive postseason games. Rodriguez, with his home run in Game 4, has equaled that mark (stretching back to the last game of the Yankees' 2007 playoff appearance), joining Howard and Lou Gehrig in the books. His third straight postseason game with a home run ties him with Bernie Williams and puts him within one HR of Gehrig and Reggie Jackson, each of whom went deep in four consecutive postseason games.

We're no longer talking about failures of the past. We're talking about history, about keeping company with the all-time greats.

Rodriguez played it close to the vest Tuesday, no doubt not wanting to jinx the run he's on. "It feels good to swing the bat well," he said. "Had some good pitches today. [I'm] being patient." But this has to be an incredibly gratifying flip of the script for him. In 24 previous postseason games with the Yankees, he had only four home runs and nine RBI. In seven games this year he's already surpassed those numbers.

"You feel like you want to see the ball and hit it hard and not try to do too much," Rodriguez explained during his postgame press conference Tuesday. "You feel like the game is slowing down for you a little bit."

"It's wonderful to see," Reggie Jackson said after Game 4. "I'm diggin' it. It's like watching a star in a movie. We all knew he had it in him. And when you see it come out like this, there's a real joy in it."

Joy for the Yankees. Joy (on the inside) for Rodriguez. But joy was part of the feel-good A-Rod story.

This thing we're looking at now? This is A-Rod on a rampage. This is a monster movie. And the Angels are hiding their eyes.

Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

Eric Neel | email

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Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.