10/17/09 2:03 AM ET
A-Rod none the worse for wear after play
Third baseman's right hip fine following home-plate collision
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
Body parts collided, Mathis' helmet flew off and home-plate umpire Tim McClelland called A-Rod out. But Rodriguez's approach, awkward as it was, may have saved him from some physical damage.
"I'm OK," Rodriguez said after his Yankees finished off a 4-1 win over the Angels in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Stuck in a 2-1 game at the time, Rodriguez walked with one out in the fifth before Hideki Matsui punched a line-drive hit into left-center field.
As he approached third base, Rodriguez saw coach Rob Thomson waving him home. So he put his head down and rounded the bag, oblivious of the fact that Thomson had ceased waving and begun imploring Rodriguez to stop.
"Once I saw the go, I put my head down," Rodriguez said. "It was my mistake."
And one thing led to another.
"Once I screwed up, I just figured my only shot to be safe was just to run him over," A-Rod said.
Mathis caught shortstop Erick Aybar's relay with his glove stretched across his body, and with barely enough time to turn, reposition and brace himself. That's when Rodriguez shifted his left side to Mathis, tumbling up and over the Angels' backstop. Mathis never actually appeared to tag Rodriguez during the collision, but A-Rod did not appear to touch home plate during the collision. However, after the collision, Rodriguez went back and slapped home plate.
Rodriguez insisted afterward that he did not intend to turn his body, nor to take an awkward shoulder-first plunge toward the plate. Had he gone the safer route and slid, Rodriguez said, he would have been doing Mathis a favor.
Either way, moments later, television cameras flashed to the dugout, where Yankees manager Joe Girardi stood applauding.
"Every run is an important run," Girardi said. "You expect your guys to play hard. That's what Alex did. He played hard. The plate was blocked. I've seen guys get torn up sliding into shin guards as well. So I did not have a problem with it."
It was, however, a clear risk. The Yankees have taken every precaution with Rodriguez since the third baseman left Spring Training to undergo arthroscopic right hip surgery, giving him ample off time throughout the season. And the extra rest has proved worthwhile -- Rodriguez's average improved every month of the season from June through October.
It's a trend that has continued into the playoffs. After finishing 1-for-2 with a sacrifice fly in Friday's game, Rodriguez upped his average to .462 average in 13 postseason at-bats, driving in at least one run in each of his first four games. And all that from a player who had developed a reputation as a postseason goat throughout the past half decade.
"I feel pretty good," Rodriguez said. "I felt pretty good in 2004, too, but one day at a time."
Certainly, an injury to Rodriguez could be catastrophic, considering his critical perch in the middle of Girardi's lineup. Rodriguez has been the Yankees' hottest and most clutch -- yes, most clutch -- hitter throughout the early days of this postseason, and he remains one of their most important pieces. So although Girardi did not condemn Rodriguez's mad dash to the plate, at least a small part of him had to cringe.
"This time of year, guys get excited about scoring runs," Girardi said.
Rodriguez did not score one -- not on this night. But he emerged from a collision healthy and his team won nonetheless. The Yankees will certainly take it.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.