A-Rod Is No April Fool

Alex Rodriguez is greeted by his teammates at home plate after his game-winning grand slam off Orioles' closer Chris Ray on Saturday. Rodriguez homered twice, doubled and had six runs batted in.
Alex Rodriguez is greeted by his teammates at home plate after his game-winning grand slam off Orioles' closer Chris Ray on Saturday. Rodriguez homered twice, doubled and had six runs batted in. (Frank Franklin II - AP)
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 8, 2007

NEW YORK, April 7 -- The sound of the bat hitting the ball Alex Rodriguez pounded for a game-winning 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 6 2/3 innings in his 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."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company