Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shedding the Ghosts of Octobers Past

If there's a been a story this postseason bigger than Alex Rodriguez shedding his postseason label of choker - you gotta convince me. And no, Ryan Howard showing why I dubbed him the "Black Beast" against my Dodgers doesnt count.

A-Rod has gone from being the poster boy of baseball purity to the poster boy of steroids earlier this year and now one of the big reasons postseason ratings are through the roof. All from a guy who has traditionally choked in the postseason. Peep his statline this year after Game 4 tonight (.407 BA, 5 HR's, 11 RBI's, including one in every game.)

I've been saying it on Twitter, he's acting like Barry Bonds did in 2002. Bonds was a notorious October goat, but in 2002, Bonds carried the Giants to the World Series with his bat (a playoff-record 8 home runs). Rodriguez is doing the same thing now.

CC Sabathia is another player haunted by October failures.'s Howard Bryant made a great, yet ignoble comparison in calling him the best regular season pitcher since Dodgers legend Don Newcombe to fail in the postseason. He famously lost in Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS when a win would've sent Cleveland to the World Series.

He's also my favorite pitcher. Strong, dominant, workhorse, mechanically sound - the best Black starting pitcher the game has seen in years. Not since Dave Stewart and Dwight Gooden has there been a Black ace consistently this good. Three straight years in the Cy Young Top 5 counting this one

So far after tonight, he's 3-0 with only three earned runs in 20.2 innings. Something about those Yankee pinstripes helped him and A-Rod exorcise those demons of Octobers past.

I went to Game 4 tonight expecting the Yankees to win. The last time I saw Sabathia pitch, he was with Cleveland and was masterful on the mound and with his bat (a towering HR). I guess karma couldn't hurt - especially when he was on 3 days rest.

What I saw was Sabathia cruise through four innings like smooth jazz. I saw him get tough in the fifth and sixth innings when the Angels rallied like a furious trumpet solo. Then he finish them off with raw power in 7 and 8 like Iggy Pop's old band.

Angels in the Outfield? They barely hit any balls outside of the infield. It was power pitching at its finest and when the maestro was done, he threw 101 pitches. The last was a hard fastball (95 mph) meekly grounded back for an easy out. Short rest be darned - this was a must win in October baseball and he got it.

8 innings, 5 hits, 1 run, 5 strikouts = The W

Then you have Mr. Rodriguez. The green-eyed target for all the haters. I had never seen him play before live so this was a treat. And I saw all of his talent just in this game.

1st at bat - walk and a stolen base (the Angels forgot he has wheels and left second base wide open). 2nd at bat - he singled and two men later, he scored on a low slide to avoid a high throw. A smart play/perfect technique. Next inning - he powers a ball to left field for a home run. And just for good measure, he ends the 9th inning with a double and then scores on a fielding error.

3-4, 3 runs scored, a triple short of the cycle. A stolen base. A-Rod in a nutshell.

I saw his speed, his smarts, his power and his great hitting eye. He's no steroid creation folks, they only enhanced the natural talents he had. And when he's in a zone, few do it better in the game today.

Both of them are the reasons why the Yankees are favored to win the World Series assuming they hold this lead. October is where reputations are made, just ask the last guy I passed in the Yankees locker room tonight, Reggie Jackson. It was almost fitting Mr. October himself was there to see two former goats come up clutch in a must-win.

This postseason has been about exorcism. The Angels beating the Red Sox for the first time after 23 years of heartbreak. The Dodgers beating the Cardinals for the first time in October. The Yankees finally maybe beating the Angels this decade, the Dodgers.....ummmm yeah nevermind about that.

A-Rod and CC sent a few more ghosts to the October sky to evaporate and by next week, they could send them away for good in the World Series. Call it Anti-Halloween.

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