MINNEAPOLIS - To best comprehend just how relaxed Alex Rodriguez is at the plate this postseason, check out his reaction after the biggest home run of his Yankees career.
After hitting a tying two-run homer with none out in the ninth inning against the Twins' Joe Nathan Friday night, Rodriguez did not act the least bit surprised. He looked as if he expected to hit it. That's confidence.
Immediately after making contact with the 3-and-1 fastball, Rodriguez did not watch the ball fly over the centerfield fence. He instead looked at the Yankees' dugout and calmly pumped his right fist.
"I feel comfortable, but I've felt comfortable all year," he said Saturday after the Yankees' off-day workout at the Metrodome. "It's only been two games. You've got to take one game at a time. My goal coming into this postseason was to keep the same approach I had all year."
Rodriguez's postseason follies have dogged him since his first playoff run with the Yankees, when his bat went silent as the Yankees blew a three-games-to-none lead over the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS. After hitting a tremendous home run that completely left Fenway Park in the third inning of Game 4, he fell into a 4-for-50 slump and went 15 straight postseason games without an RBI at one point.
Things got so bad for Rodriguez that after he failed to produce early in ALDS Game 1 this season, he reached these seemingly unreachable numbers - 0-for-29 with runners on base, 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position and 40 straight men stranded on base. But Rodriguez broke through with a pair of two-out RBI singles in Game 1, and that allowed him to relax.
"Like that first home run I hit in Baltimore," he said, referring to homering on the first pitch he saw this season, "that helped me carry some momentum through the year. And like that hit I had the other day, it just naturally helps you carry on, get some momentum and obviously build some confidence."
That led to the ninth inning Friday, when Rodriguez batted with Mark Teixeira on first, none out and the Twins leading 3-1. This time it was the pitcher who was rattled, not A-Rod.
Nathan started him off with three straight sliders away, falling behind 3-and-0 before A-Rod took a gimme fastball for strike one. Nathan came back with another fastball, right in Rodriguez's favorite spot, and he crushed it into the centerfield side of the Yankees' bullpen, setting the stage for Teixeira's winning homer in the 11th inning.
"You've got to put that one right at the top," A-Rod said. "It was definitely a very special feeling, off a very good pitcher at a time we really, really needed it."
He is 4-for-8 in this series, with three two-out RBI singles and a two-run homer. Combined with his final inning of the regular season, when he drove in an American League-record seven runs with a three-run homer and a grand slam, he has 12 RBIs in his last three games.
So what's different for Rodriguez now compared to previous Octobers? As he has done all season, he credited the two months he was away rehabbing after hip surgery as his turning point.
"Going back to spring training, I think I've just taken some self-inventory," he said. "I just felt I had an opportunity to have a fresh start. I also know with all the stuff that went on, that being 34 and not 44, I had some opportunities to do some good things. So I went into this year with no expectations and that was the approach I had all year. That's been my approach so far."
He also realizes he has ramped up the expectations. Now, perhaps fans are going to expect to see one of the game's best offensive players perform at that level in October. Not that he cares. "That doesn't matter," he said. "I'm having fun."