A-Rod finally a champion after year of turmoil
Alex Rodriguez grabbed the World Series trophy and wouldn't let go. After the New York Yankees regained the title for the first time in nine years, after the podium presentation before a delirious crowd of 50,315 christened the new ballpark with a championship in its first year, A-Rod was the one to carry the trophy back to the clubhouse. He raised it high, showing it off to the fans, a triumph for the team and for himself. "Look, a lot of people ran the other way. My teammates and coaches and organization stood right next to me. And now we stand together as world champs," he said a few minutes later in the clubhouse, under a shower of Moet & Chandon and Armand de Brignac. "It's been a special year. I know it started rocky for us." He had piled up money in the bank and MVP awards on his mantle. Now he has the one and only prize he's ever wanted - a World Series championship ring. "He's exorcised a lot of demons," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said a few feet from the podium. "There's no reason to take any 'He can't do this; he can't do that.' He's done it all now. So now, he can just continue to write history, because he's one of the greatest players to ever play this game." After six seasons of hits and home runs, heartaches and headaches, he finally earned his pinstripes in the eyes of the fans the only way Yankees can - with a title. "I'm so happy the way they treated me all year," he said. "They stood behind me. Walking around the City of New York, everybody was so supportive." He arrived in spring training exposed and embarrassed, labeled a steroid user from his years with Texas. His news conference was the low point of his career. "I just knew then when I had the 25 guys there standing next to me, and organization and my general manager, they meant the world to me," he said. "I said that day that this is going to turn out to be maybe one of the most special years of our lives, and it sure has." Then, weeks later, he wound up on an operating table in Colorado, unsure whether he'd make it on the field. When he returned from hip surgery, it was a season of superlatives. He homered on his first swing in Baltimore, rousing the Yankees from the slumber of a 13-15 start, and homered on his last of the regular season at Tampa Bay. His three-run homer and grand slam against the Rays that afternoon gave him 30 homers and 100 RBIs for the 12th consecutive year. And then he did away with the 0-for-October reputation that had stuck to him as much as his three AL MVPs. Rodriguez put together a performance that matched those of the players he seems to most admire, Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter. "He's one of the big reasons we're here," captain Jeter said. A-Rod had been 8 for 59 (.136) in the postseason dating to 2004 and hitless in 18 consecutive playoff at-bats with runners in scoring position. But this was a new A-Rod, liberated and transformed in his 16th big league season. Finally starting to grow up at age 34, he shed the distractions caused by his $275 million contract and an entourage of handlers he picked up from Madonna. He glowed in his relationship with new girlfriend Kate Hudson. "I saw Kate, she was smiling so much I barely recognized her," Jackson said. "I think he feels happy. Seeing him, he's just happy." This A-Rod was a one-man highlight reel. He chased the Minnesota Twins' starter with an RBI single in the postseason opener, tied the score in the ninth inning of Game 2 with a two-run homer off Joe Nathan and tied the score again with another home run in the seventh inning of Game 3. He hit a tying 11th-inning homer off the Angels' Brian Fuentes in Game 2 of the American League championship series, then homered again in Games 3 and 4. His only World Series home run, awarded after a video review in Game 3, awoke the Yankees from a 3-0 deficit against Cole Hamels. He led the Yankees in the postseason with a .365 average, six homers, 18 RBIs, 15 runs and 12 walks. After an 0-for-8 start in the Series that included six strikeouts, he was 5 for 12 with six RBIs in the final four games. When he first joined the Yankees in 2004, the Yankees spurted to a 3-0 lead against Boston in the AL championship series before the greatest postseason collapse in baseball history. Acceptance delayed. But not denied. "It," he said, "probably feels better than '04 would have felt."