A-Rod Is No April Fool

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - By Jorge Aran­gure Jr.

K Yan­kees 10, Ori­oles 7

NEW YORK, April 7 — The sound of the bat hit­ting the ball Alex Ro­driguez pounded for a gamewin­ning grand slam against Bal­ti­more Ori­oles closer Chris Ray on Satur­day af­ter­noon echoed off ev­ery cor­ner of Yan­kee Sta­dium. The two- out, 1- 2 pitch from Ray was a 95- mph fast­ball that, ac­cord­ing to Bal­ti­more’s scout­ing re­ports, was sup­posed to land high and away, yet mis­tak­enly landed belt- high.

Ro­driguez pounced on the fat pitch, send­ing the Yan­kees to a 10- 7 win that was capped by a cur­tain call for the al­ways be­lea­guered New York third base­man. Ro­driguez was greeted at home plate by his team­mates, who cel­e­brated by slap­ping him on the head.

“ It felt awe­some,” said Ro­driguez, who be­came only the third ma­jor league player to hit three game- win­ning grand slams. “ I was

so ex­cited. I was float­ing around the bases. It felt like Lit­tle League. I al­most knocked [ third base coach Larry] Bowa down go­ing around and I looked over and saw the fans and that felt good. The fans have been want­ing to ex­plode for three days. The place was rock­ing at the end. When it’s that loud, it feels good. There’s some­thing about New York that I love, the en­ergy.”

The Ori­oles quickly and qui­etly walked off the field, with Ray show­ing lit­tle emo­tion as he en­tered the tun­nel at Yan­kee Sta­dium. No team has be­fud­dled Ray more than the Yan­kees. Since be­com­ing Bal­ti­more’s closer last year, Ray is 0- 4 with a 7.56 ERA against New York, al­low­ing four home runs in eight ap­pear­ances. “ I was miss­ing my spots and leav­ing the ball up a lit­tle bit,” Ray said. “ I was fine. I was com­fort­able out there. If I had made my pitches, it would’ve been a dif­fer­ent out­come. I just didn’t lo­cate as well as I should’ve.”

Ray, who had a 7- 6 lead head­ing into the ninth, re­tired the first two bat­ters be­fore al­low­ing Robin­son Cano’s sin­gle to cen­ter. Ray walked Derek Jeter and then struck Bobby Abreu on the shin with a pitch, load­ing the bases for Ro­driguez.

Catcher Al­berto Castillo went to the mound to coun­sel Ray.

“ Let’s go af­ter Alex,” Castillo said he told Ray.

Pitch­ing coach Leo Maz­zone joined the con­fer­ence on the mound and told Ray, “ This is your guy right here.”

“ And we went right af­ter him,” Castillo said. “ It’s tough to lose a game like this. I was hun­gry, but right now I’m not.”

Bal­ti­more got the game to Ray with a lead, though just barely. In the eighth, setup man Danys Baez walked Abreu and Ro­driguez with one out. One pitch in that in­ning might have changed the game, and it wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily the one that Ja­son Gi­ambi hit for a three- run home run. On a 2- 2 count to Ro­driguez, Baez threw a fast­ball that ap­peared to be squarely in the mid­dle of the plate. It was called a ball. A pitch later, Ro­driguez walked, set­ting up Gi­ambi’s blast.

“ Yeah, def­i­nitely it should have been called a strike,” Castillo said. “ But I can’t judge any­one for that. I don’t have the con­trol over that. So I just caught the ball and threw it back.”

Said Baez: “ It was a very close pitch. It wasn’t far away from the strike zone. The pitch was very close, but it was [ called] a ball. I was be­hind in the count, and when you’re be­hind in the count, you’ve got to try to make a strike. I left that ball to Gi­ambi right there in the strike zone.”

Ray’s strug­gles de­nied a win for Steve Trach­sel, who al­lowed three runs in 62⁄ in­nings in his

3 Ori­oles de­but. Trach­sel showed none of the in­con­sis­tency that dogged him dur­ing a hor­rid spring.

“ I hadn’t thrown in seven days so I was a lit­tle ner­vous about be­ing too strong, plus be­ing my first game,” Trach­sel said. “ I was pretty happy I was able to con­trol my emo­tions, es­pe­cially af­ter the first in­ning. I didn’t make too many mis­takes, which was key for me. Lo­ca­tion was good. All my pitches were work­ing well. Mixed it up real well.”

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