Sports Outside the Beltway

Unbelievable: Arod’s walkoff slam

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Alex Rodriguez jokes that one way or another, he always seems to wind up in the middle of something.

He didn’t seem to mind on Saturday, grinning from the center of a pile at home plate, his Yankees teammates alternating between slapping his head, offering high-fives or embracing the third baseman’s body in appreciative hugs.

Rodriguez hit a game-winning grand slam off Chris Ray in the bottom of the ninth inning to sink the Baltimore Orioles, 10-7, and set off a raucous celebration at Yankee Stadium.

“It felt awesome,” Rodriguez said. “I was so excited, I felt like a fool running around the bases, like it was Little League. I just remember I almost knocked [coach Larry] Bowa over at third. I saw the fans rocking behind him. That was kind of cool.”

Arod’s defining moment as a Yankee? Probably not, but it’s close. I came into the game in the 6th inning, Yanks trailing 7-3. They squandered several opportunities with men on base until the 8th inning when Giambi hit a 3-run shot to bring the Yanks ‘to within 7-6′ (as Michael Kay said, somehow thinking that was correct grammar). Mo pitched a scoreless top of the 9th, and Dmint led off the bottom half with a line drive right into the first-baseman’s glove (I was cursing the poor luck), then Melky struck out. Robbie Cano came through with a 2-strike single, followed by a close 3-2 pitch that walked Jeter. Up came Abreu, and I knew he’d get on base somehow without tying the game (walk, infield single, hbp), therefore putting the onus on Arod. Lo and behold, he’s hit in the leg on the first pitch. Up comes Arod, 2 outs, bases loaded, down by 1 – he falls behind 1-2 swinging through a 95 mph fastball. Considering Ray couldn’t throw his off-speed stuff for strikes (and Arod’s miss on the previous pitch), he had to come back with another heater. Arod had it timed perfectly and launched it (seemingly hit well, but I couldn’t tell how well until I saw CF Corey Patterson sprinting toward the fence) just to the right of dead center, into the first row of the black seats. Game over. Yankees win 10-7.

I’ll admit, I did not think Arod would come through. I didn’t even want to watch but forced myself. Am I ever glad I did.

Arod has shown a renewed talent for hitting mid-90s (and inside) fastballs that he lacked for much of 2006. I’ll assume it’s due to the 15 pounds he intentionally lost during the winter to regain (his formerly excellent) bat speed. No reason to think the ability won’t go away, unless of course he falls victim to the Sidney Ponson/Chris Britton diet.

Another splendid job by the bullpen: 4 ip, 0 r. One inning each from Bruney, Myers, Vizcaino and Rivera. They deserve almost as much credit for the win as Arod.

I can’t comment on Igawa because of the tardiness of my watching (starting in the 6th after a 5-hour drive upstate). My thoughts on him will be here early next week after I return home to see the DVR’ed version of the game. Apparently he had no control of his breaking pitches, but at least went 5 innings – more than any other starter can say so far.

In other bad (and Japanese related) news, Hideki Matsui left the game after one at-bat with a strained hamstring. However, Damon was able to pinch-hit and even take over in CF after Matsui left, so he’s clearly on the mend. And Melky had his first hit of the season – he’s looking better at the plate every day, and still playing solid defense. Matsui’s return – who knows? Hopefully it will be just a few days.

10-7 Yanks (a much needed win)

4*: Arod, 3-4, bb, 2b, HR, 3 r, 6 rbi
2: Bullpen, 4 ip, 1 h, 1 bb, 5 k (3 for Bruney), 0 r
2: Giambi, 1-3, bb, HR, 3 rbi
1: Abreu, 0-2, 2 bb, 3 r

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