Not yet draped in N.Y. glory, Rodriguez gets curtain call

The Baltimore Sun

NEW YORK -- The moment was loaded with all kinds of meaning, but Alex Rodriguez wasn't about to untangle it for anyone.

In the heady aftermath of Rodriguez's dramatic walk-off grand slam yesterday, teammate Derek Jeter pushed him up the dugout steps for a well-deserved curtain call. The crowd roared and A-Rod beamed, and for one afternoon all the unpleasantness that had gone before seemed very far away.

Rodriguez, at least for a while, has won back New York after his relationship with Yankees fans deteriorated badly last season. He and Jeter might not be best friends anymore, but they seem to have found a comfortable place to pursue their competitive goals.

All of that seemed to crystallize in the curtain call, though A-Rod wasn't willing to put it in any real perspective.

"Yeah," he said, "that was great."

Next question.

Rodriguez was only slightly more forthcoming about his personal struggles last year and his ability to rebound so quickly this season after falling out of favor in his home ballpark. The grand slam completed a dramatic comeback after the Yankees fell behind 7-2 in the early innings. It was his second home run of the afternoon and his third of the season.

Not a bad way to start for a guy whose ability to deliver the big hit has been under scrutiny since he - and his record contract - arrived in New York in 2004. Not a bad way to show Yankees fans that what's really important is what happens between the white lines and not what shows up in the local tabloids.

"I've been at peace for a while," Rodriguez said. "I felt like I was in a good place in spring training. I had an opportunity to come up there a couple of nights ago and I was very excited about it, but I came up a little short."

Not this time. He crushed a two-out, two-strike fastball from Orioles closer Chris Ray that landed in the dark hitting background behind center field. Center fielder Corey Patterson just turned and watched it fly away along with the golden opportunity for the Orioles to effect a dynamic emotional sea change during this three-game series in The Bronx.

"It always ends up like I end up in the middle of something one way or the other," Rodriguez said.

Yankees manager Joe Torre watched Rodriguez and Jeter celebrating together and tried to explain how two guys can appear so disconnected off the field and so in tune on it.

"It's not a surprise," he said. "I know there has been a lot said about those two. When they lace them up, they are teammates. Others may take notice of that, but it is what we expect. They are trying to accomplish the same thing."

I'm sure this would all be very heartwarming for Orioles fans if they hadn't had their hearts ripped out yesterday. The Orioles were one strike away from heading into today's series finale with a chance to sweep a three-game series in New York for the first time since June 1986 and return to Baltimore for the home opener with a .500 record. After the way they played during a winless season-opening trip to Minnesota, that would have represented a dramatic change of fortune.

The Yankees, meanwhile, were five runs down after another disappointing effort from their piecemeal starting rotation, with fill-in fifth starter Darrell Rasner set to face Erik Bedard today.

"To have it set up like that for Alex, especially with two strikes on him, to win a game like that is huge for us," Torre said. "To see people pull for him like they do in the dugout and have him come through ... that's enormous. It's one of those things where you get to a point where you wonder when do you have to stop proving yourself."

Of course, in the town where world titles used to be taken for granted, A-Rod will never be fully accepted until he helps the Yankees win a World Series. But for one chilly April afternoon, all was right with the world and everything else was a subject for another day.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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