Yanks marvel at fortune of fluke error
A-Rod escapes criticism as gaffe leads to stunning victory
NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez walked to his locker modestly after Friday's game, tongue firmly in cheek, and asked reporters if they wanted to talk to the evening's hero.
A little gallows humor was called for, especially after Rodriguez's Yankees became unlikely winners. Mets second baseman Luis Castillo couldn't find a soaring popup, the ball falling safely as two runs scored and the Yankees snuck off with a 9-8 victory on Friday at Yankee Stadium.
"I still don't believe it," Rodriguez said. "I couldn't believe what I saw."
A-Rod clearly believed he would be on the opposite side of the discussion -- that much was made clear when he spiked his bat into the infield dirt, frustrated that he'd come up empty in the climactic moments of this year's first Subway Series game.
Rodriguez had finessed the count to 3-1 against Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez, eyeing Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira on the basepaths. Rodriguez took a healthy cut and was instantly distressed.
"I'm just frustrated," Rodriguez recounted. "I worked the count to exactly where I wanted, I laid off the 2-0 split and got a good fastball to hit. I centered the cut and popped it straight up."
From the dugout, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he kept his eye on the ball, watching Castillo trail it further and further into the outfield. For the manager, the play almost seemed to develop in slow motion.
There were 26 outs to account for before Rodriguez's popup, and Girardi started mulling all of the reasons the Yankees had just lost the game.
"When the ball goes up, you start thinking about all the walks and all the things that took place to put us in a bad position," Girardi said. "Then you see him drifting a little bit, and then you hear the roar of the crowd, and then your emotion changes quickly."
Also in the dugout, Mariano Rivera -- on the hook for a loss after allowing David Wright's go-ahead RBI double in the eighth inning -- permitted himself to exhale at the unexpected.
Racing from second base and charging home on contact, Jeter said he thought the same thing he always thinks on similar plays. But Jeter, who may be the most openly optimistic of all the Yankees, even acknowledged that he expected to see a loss on the board.
"Drop it -- you think that every time," Jeter said. "You pretty much think the game is over. That's the bottom line. It's happened to everyone who's played this game before. Everyone has dropped a popup before. It's good for us and it's bad for them."
Near the end, Castillo wobbled, the ball struck his glove and fell safely -- and Girardi immediately looked for Teixeira.
"I see Tex, running and running and running," Girardi said. "We've talked about the type of player that Tex is and how hard he plays the game. He's a baseball player, because he never gave up, and that's why we won."
Teixeira said he never saw the play actually transpire, focusing all of his attention on third-base coach Rob Thomson -- though he probably won't need to look far to catch a television highlight anytime in the near future.
"I just put my head down -- I was just running," Teixeira said. "I picked up 'Topper' at third base, and I could tell he was really looking intently, like something was going on, so I kept on running, running.
"And then when he started waving me, I put it into second gear -- I don't have a third, fourth or fifth -- so I just tried to run as hard as I could and get home."
In the clubhouse, Nick Swisher gestured toward Teixeira's vacant locker, adorned with the replica wrestling belt the Yankees pass around in lieu of a "Player of the Game" award.
"That's why Tex has the belt tonight," Swisher said. "A lot of guys in that situation might assume the catch, but Tex is busting his tail from first base and ends up scoring the winning run. That's got to be a classic finish."
Rodriguez was pinned to first base on the play as Teixeira chugged around third, scoring with a slap of his hand on the plate as he slid in. It took A-Rod a few extra seconds to comprehend exactly what had transpired.
"I knew that Jeet would score for sure, but I didn't think about Mark," Rodriguez said. "Obviously, I'm just so ticked at myself for popping that ball up, that's all I'm thinking about. And then when you see Mark flying around third, you just think, 'It's a gift from God -- or from Castillo.'"
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.