06/04/07 2:18 AM ET
A-Rod has last laugh
Slugger takes Papelbon deep in ninth as Yanks win series
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Rodriguez turned on a 95-mph fastball and belted a two-out solo home run in the top of the ninth inning Sunday off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, lifting the Yankees to a 6-5 victory in a rain-soaked series finale.
The blast, which sailed over center fielder Coco Crisp's head and found a safe landing in the Boston bullpen, quieted a crowd of 36,793 that had delighted in Rodriguez's tumultuous past week, some donning blonde plastic masks and shouting variations of "Ha!" with each popup to third base.
As rain fell on Boston and Sunday turned into Monday, it was A-Rod who'd seemed to achieve the last laugh. Even so, he seemed to prefer to look forward.
"That's a big win for us," Rodriguez said. "It's important to go to Chicago and play well and try to get some wins. It's just good to get a win. It's nice."
That said, Rodriguez couldn't completely block out the jeers and catcalls. It didn't matter much, as the Yankees achieved their goal of taking two out of three in Boston's ballpark.
"I heard some," Rodriguez admitted. "I think the Boston fan always has a lot of fun. I appreciate that. It's no big deal."
"It's got to take some of the sting out of it," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "Obviously, when you're dealing with a personal situation, it's more than just a game at that point in time. He's had to put it off to the side and play the game. It's not easy to do."
The contest was tempered some by an early exit from starter Andy Pettitte, who drew medical attention on the mound after suffering back spasms in a five-run fifth inning that chased the left-hander.
"I had a little bit going on in my lower back," Pettitte said. "I feel good; we got a win. I'd feel a lot worse than I'm feeling if we didn't. I'm real proud of the guys."
Pettitte said he originally felt a tweak in the third inning, but it set in more in the fifth, and he pointed to the chilly weather conditions and a long top half of the inning as contributing factors.
He does not believe it will affect his next scheduled start.
"I feel like I should be able to make it," Pettitte said.
In the fifth, Pettitte surrendered three consecutive singles to Jason Varitek, Wily Mo Pena and Crisp before finally getting the first out of the inning. Hot-hitting Dustin Pedroia followed with a three-run double to left center, clearing the bases.
"It certainly could have [affected Pettitte], because he wasn't throwing the ball the same way," Torre said. "He's Pettitte and we certainly trust him. He gave us what he could give us."
David Ortiz ripped a single to right that Bobby Abreu let squirt by him for a two-base error, tying the game and prompting Torre to lift Pettitte after 4 1/3 innings in favor of reliever Luis Vizcaino.
Kevin Youkilis greeted the right-hander with a deep sacrifice fly to center to give the Red Sox the lead, but New York's other relievers -- Kyle Farnsworth, Brian Bruney and Mariano Rivera -- blanked Boston the rest of the way.
The Yankees had little trouble hitting undefeated Boston starter Josh Beckett early, but their struggles intensified as Beckett did. Josh Phelps dribbled a run-scoring single to center in the second inning to open the scoring and the Yankees put up three more in the fifth, with A-Rod and Jorge Posada drilling RBI singles. A third run scored when Derek Jeter came in on a Mike Lowell error.
Beckett exited after 6 1/3 innings and 117 pitches in position for the win. New York threatened in the seventh inning to bounce Beckett, but a battery of three Red Sox relievers quieted the damage and kept the Yankees off the board: Rodriguez popped out facing Brendan Donnelly with runners on the corners and one out, and Posada ended the inning by skying a ball to center field on a twisting fly ball facing Hideki Okajima.
An inning later, New York tied the game against the left-handed Okajima, who was making his seventh appearance this season against the Yankees and had enjoyed a run of early success. Hideki Matsui opened the inning with a single to right and Robinson Cano followed with a triple to deep center field.
"He killed that ball into the wind," Torre said.
Abreu came up with a game-saving catch in the bottom of the eighth inning, flagging down a Pedroia drive into the right-center field gap with a stumbling, fully-outstretched grab that Torre called "spectacular."
"I was just trying to get there and make the play," Abreu said. "I wasn't really sure about it. When I got closer and closer, I thought I had a chance."
That set the stage for Rodriguez's heroics, which came in the top of the ninth after Papelbon got Jeter to bounce to first base and struck out Abreu looking. Papelbon scored a swinging strike and a foul ball before Rodriguez lit into the two-strike offering, ripping his 20th home run of the season high and deep to right.
"I was just trying to not to do too much," Rodriguez said. "With two strikes, that's the last thing you're trying to do, to hit a home run.
"It's always a tough at-bat [against Papelbon]. He has so many ways of getting you out. The guy's a great competitor. Just to be able to win that game and then have Mo close the door was great."
Warming in the Yankees' bullpen even before Rodriguez's homer and primed to come into the game, lead or no, Rivera converted his fifth save of the season around a hit-by-pitch to Youkilis.
The opportunities have been hard to come by for Rivera, who is generally accustomed to having entertained a much heavier workload by the time June rolls around, but Sunday's appearance created a second opportunity in one week's time.
Saying that he feels sharper with regular work, Rivera expressed satisfaction but little surprise for the eventual outcome of another lengthy, dramatics-filled evening between the two rivals.
"We always play like this," Rivera said. "All games are like this -- a battle. It definitely feels good when you win."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.