A-Rod Is Becoming the New ‘Mr. October’

At 1:07am EST, early Sunday morning, Los Angeles Angels’ of Anaheim second baseman Maicer Izturis handed the New York Yankees a 4-3 victory in Game 2 of their American League Championship Series, simultaneously making most Yankee fans forget what happened one inning prior –- that Yankees’ slugger Alex Rodriguez once again didn’t come through in the postseason.

After the Angels took a 3-2 lead in the top of the 11th inning on a Chone Figgins flair RBI single to left field off Yankees’ reliever Alfredo Aceves, the Yankees were saved by Alex Rodriguez’s clutch opposite field home run home run which barely cleared the right field wall and tied the game, 3-3, in the bottom of the 11th. Rodriguez’s blast came on an 0-2 mistake fastball from Angels’ reliever Brian Fuentes, who would have been a lot wiser to make Rodriguez chase a pitch or two with the favorable count and light-hitting, little-used Freddy Guzman on deck.

A-Rod’s homer eventually led to Izturis’ game-deciding error in the bottom of the 13th inning. With one out and runners at first and second, Izturiz, ranging to his left, made a nice backhand stop in the hole between first and second, robbing Melky Cabrera of what likely would have been a game-winning single. The smart play for Izturis would have been to get the sure out at first base and let Angels’ reliever Ervin Santana go after Yankees’ catcher Jorge Posada with runners at second and third and two outs.

Izturis however, made a poor decision, trying to start a double play that the Angels would have had little chance of turning. He threw the ball wildly toward second base, past shortstop Angels’ shortstop Erick Aybar, into short left field, allowing Yankees’ pinch hitter Jerry Hairston, Jr. to score the game-winning run from second base on the Angels’ second error on cold rainy night at Yankee Stadium, the fifth error of game combined for both teams, during an otherwise classic of a postseason game.

“I was a little aggressive there,” Izturis said. “I’m not scared to be aggressive. Unfortunately, it cost us the game.”

As, a result, the Yankees head to Anaheim up two games to none instead of being in a 1-1 battle, and all is okay with Yankee fans and with their current perception of A-Rod.

However, in the “What-Have-You-Done-For-Me-Lately” city of New York, and in the “Only-A-World-Championship-Is-Acceptable” world in which the Yankees live, had the Angels evened the series early Sunday morning, A-Rod might have been vilified for yet another playoff failure after flying out to center field with the bases loaded, to end the bottom of the 12th inning.

Failing in the 12th inning despite saving the game in the 11th would give most teams and players a pass.

But, fair or not, that’s not usually the case in New York. Not with the Yankees, and especially, not with the controversial A-Rod, and his past playoff failures, off-the-field issues, and admitted steroid abuse.

This year, A-Rod to this point, has certainly changed his reputation of a great regular season player who fails in the playoffs in New York. He’s hit in all five Yankee playoff games in 2009, with a .368 batting average, a .409 on-base percentage, and an .842 slugging percentage, while smacking three home runs and driving in eight runs.

And, he’s proven to his detractors that he can indeed be clutch in October. Against Minnesota, A-Rod tied Game 2 of the American League Division Series, 1-1, with a two-out single in the 6th inning before hitting a huge game-tying two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth, allowing the Yankees to win that pivotal game, 4-3, on a Mark Texeira walk-off home run in the 11th.

Perhaps, the difference in postseason production this year in comparison with past seasons is due to a changed mental approach, and not succumbing to the pressures of producing in a city like New York and for a storied franchise like the Yankees. “This whole year I’m playing with no expectations,” Rodriguez said after that Game 2 win.

In Game 3 of the same series, A-Rod’s home run in the 7th inning drew the Yankees even, 1-1, before they went on to a 4-1 victory and a three-game sweep of the Twins.

But, this is New York, this is the Yankees, and this is A-Rod.

And thus, a whole different measuring stick is used to evaluate postseason success.

The memories of New York sports fans in general, are short, especially when it comes to the Yankees. And, even more so when it comes to A-Rod because of the factors mentioned above, as well the insane money that A-Rod commands — all of which causes many Yankee fans to often demand the impossible from A-Rod.

There’s no doubt that this has already been a vastly different postseason for A-Rod in New York than in past years. But, you have to wonder, even with his 2009 success through the 11th inning on Sunday morning, if Izturis makes a different decision in the 13th, and the game ends later with an Angels’ win, are Yankee fans pointing to that 12th inning, and again questioning A-Rod’s ability to come through when it matters most?

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