A-Rod's 10th caps Yanks' comeback
Dramatic home run finishes rally back from four-run deficit
NEW YORK -- Josh Phelps was trotting around the bases to complete what appeared to be a meaningless solo homer Thursday afternoon when Andy Pettitte leaned over and snuck in a quick comment to Alex Rodriguez.
Sitting on the Yankees' bench, Pettitte warned Rodriguez that he might have one more at-bat coming. Rodriguez considered the game situation -- two outs, bottom of the ninth -- and admitted he didn't have a very good feeling about this one.
One has to wonder what sort of premonitions Pettitte may hold for the Yankees' upcoming series at Boston.
A momentous six-run rally erupted, and just as predicted, Rodriguez delivered the capping blow, tagging closer Joe Borowski for a game-winning three-run homer as the Yankees sunk the Indians, 8-6, to complete a series sweep.
Somewhere in a mob scene at home plate, after Rodriguez had cracked third-base coach Larry Bowa on the head and spiked his batting helmet into the turf, Rodriguez caught eyes with Pettitte.
"He was laughing," Rodriguez said. "He just said, 'I told you.'"
Rodriguez's incredible April continued with his Major League-leading 10th home run, as A-Rod became the first player in American League history to hit that many homers in his club's first 14 games.
"I'm just trying to enjoy the moment," Rodriguez said.
But he couldn't have done it without a ninth inning that proved to be part miracle, part meltdown. Coming on with a four-run lead, Borowski retired the first two batters in the frame, sending some in what remained of a crowd of 40,872 trickling toward the stadium exits.
Those who left missed the most exciting parts of a Thursday matinee that, for Yankees fans, had been highlighted by a Jason Giambi home run, 4 1/3 innings of solid ball from rookie Darrell Rasner, and little else.
Phelps kept the Yankees' hopes alive by slugging a solo homer -- his first since May 2005 -- to left, cutting Cleveland's lead to 6-3. Jorge Posada ripped a two-strike single up the middle and moved to second on defensive indifference before Johnny Damon walked, bringing Derek Jeter to the plate as the tying run.
By this point, with Bobby Abreu looming on deck and searching for his fourth hit of the game, thoughts of a comeback started to stir in Rodriguez's mind.
Alex Rodriguez's 2007 home runs
|** -- A-Rod walk-off homer|
"I figured if Johnny got on, I knew Jete would do something and I know Bobby's been swinging the bat well," Rodriguez said.
Jeter singled to left, scoring Posada to draw New York within two, and Abreu notched that fourth safety with a hit to left, scoring Damon.
"You never know what's going to happen," Jeter said. "You don't expect this [rally], but we have enough guys who are capable of getting hits and getting on base. Sometimes the last few outs are difficult to get."
Suddenly, there was Rodriguez, walking to the plate. To further complicate matters, a wild pitch moved the runners up. Opting not to pitch to Giambi with the bases loaded, the Indians settled upon trying their luck with Rodriguez.
"In years past, maybe I would have outthought myself in that situation, runners at second and third," Rodriguez said. "I just wanted to see the ball and put a good swing on it, and trust what I saw."
"It's the new Alex," Damon said. "He's taking playing in New York differently. He knows he's bigger, stronger and works harder than anyone, and is just letting that carry him."
On the bench, left-hander Sean Henn realized that -- having pitched the ninth inning -- he was now in position to notch his first Major League victory.
"I'm thinking, 'Wow, I have a chance here," Henn said.
Rodriguez took a pitch before meeting a fat 88-mph fastball and launching a deep drive to center field. With Cleveland center fielder Grady Sizemore playing in to guard against a potential play at the plate, the only question was just how far this one would go.
The answer came as the ball landed beyond the 408-foot mark in center, bouncing around to the left of the spot where Rodriguez's April 7 walk-off grand slam against Baltimore had settled.
As Rodriguez flipped his bat in the air and put his hands out, he again related to feeling like a Little Leaguer, leaping around the bases and just waiting for the opportunity to clap his hands on the skull of gritty third-base coach Larry Bowa, who was doing a little jumping of his own.
"I get the most pleasure out of trying to hit Bowa on the head as hard as I can," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez's heroics bailed out ineffective reliever Luis Vizcaino, who had surrendered the advantage in a four-run Cleveland seventh.
With the Yankees hoping to carry a one-run lead and a series sweep into their weekend series at Fenway Park, those dreams took a hit as Jason Michaels walked and came around to score on an infield groundout, before Vizcaino served up a three-run homer to Victor Martinez.
Rasner started for the Yankees, following starts from Chase Wright and Kei Igawa to mark the first time since 1991 that the club had started three rookies in a series. Rasner surrendered a solo home run to David Dellucci in the fourth inning but limited the Indians to four hits, walking one and striking out three.
For veteran observers like Pettitte, who watched the contest from the Yankees' bench as he prepares for a whole new set of hysterics this weekend in Boston, the first eight innings of the contest must have seemed rather mundane.
It's a recipe perfected by the Gotham tabloids: sprinkle in a little Alex and, all of a sudden, the voltage jumps.
Last season, the news seemed to be all negative, and it filtered around the Major Leagues and down to Houston's clubhouse -- A-Rod this, A-Rod that. Through their 14 games sharing a clubhouse, Pettitte has to just sit back and wonder if he'd misheard it all.
"It's all been good since I've been here," Pettitte said. "I'm scratching my head trying to figure out what everyone was complaining about."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.