Jon Heyman
Monday November 2nd, 2009

PHILADELPHIA -- Yankees home run heroes Alex Rodriguez and Reggie Jackson are always chatting behind the batting cage in these Octobers. Normally we can only imagine what they are telling each other in these frequent meetings where the two baseball greats are seen but not heard. But before Game 4 of the World Series on Sunday night, A-Rod said something that struck Jackson as so profound and so perfect that Jackson felt he had to share it.

"Big hits are what matter,'' Rodriguez told Reggie before Game 4.

Which was like music to Reggie's ears.

And that's not just because that sort of comment celebrates Jackson's career of big hits and big moments, but because it reveals something new about A-Rod. Until these recent weeks, Rodriguez looked destined to be remembered for the sheer volume of regular-season hits and home runs, not any October moments. Now, with the Yankees one victory from wrapping up their 27th World Series championship, Rodriguez is close to rewriting his legacy.

"We're stride for stride ... on the same page,'' Reggie said.

A-Rod declined to discuss what the two greats talked about ("that's a private conversation,'' he said) after he scorched the go-ahead, two-out, ninth-inning hit off Phillies closer Brad Lidge that one-hopped the wall in the Yankees' 7-4 victory, putting the Yankees up 3-1 in games. That double gave Rodriguez 15 RBIs in his magical October that includes three hits that tied the game or put the Yankees ahead in the ninth inning or later. Perhaps recalling what he told Reggie hours earlier, A-Rod said, "There's no question, I've never had a bigger hit than that.'' Only one night before in Game 3, Rodriguez produced perhaps his biggest hit to date, a two-run home run that got the Yankees started on a comeback in an 8-5 victory.

"I'm happy for him,'' Reggie said. 'It's nice to watch great players.''

One teammate remarked that he hoped Rodriguez's homer on Saturday "loosened'' A-Rod up, just another suggestion that Rodriguez's mood is so vital to the team's success that it is constantly monitored by those around him. Rodriguez, though, attributed his sudden success here to being hit by a pitch for the first time this Series on Saturday, saying it "woke me up'' to the realization that this was the World Series.

He has now been hit three times in two games to tie a full-Series record, and while Rodriguez wouldn't say in the interview room whether he felt that the pitches were accidental, Reggie said, flat out, "I think they're hitting him on purpose.'' When it was suggested to A-Rod as he exited the ballpark on Sunday night that it couldn't possibly be coincidental, he gave a shushing signal by pressing his right index finger up to his mouth. He has always seemed to find the limelight. But now he seems content to stay out of it, if he can.

A-Rod tried again to glorify his teammates by saying that they got to this point with him and fellow star slugger Mark Teixeira doing "not much'' in this World Series, which "tells you what a great, balanced team we've had all year.'' But the reality is that Rodriguez, after six strikeouts in the first two games, has provided the single biggest hits in consecutive nights.

Almost to a man, teammates cite a different A-Rod this year, an A-Rod who is more a part of a 25-man team, who is close to Teixeira and closer to Derek Jeter than he's been since he came to the Yankees, a man who really has tried to stay out of the spotlight, as much as a player who is the highest-paid player in team sports history, a man who is on his way to the all-time home run record and a man who is dating a famous movie starlet can possibly stay out of the spotlight, anyway.

Rodriguez attributed his spectacular October to expectations that were reduced after his spring steroid revelation. "For the first time in my career, I've felt like an underdog,'' he said.

Whatever did it, those closest to him notice a change.

"He's more patient, more relaxed, more comfortable,'' Reggie said.

And now he's within a game of writing a new lead for his own life story.

Andy Pettitte told teammates he had absolutely "nothing'' for Game 3 after he gutted out six innings in the Yankees' win. But most still believe that Joe Girardi will go back to Pettitte in Game 6 (if necessary) on three days' rest rather than tap journeyman Chad Gaudin. Pettitte now has a record 17 postseason victories, and it isn't unrealistic to think he's a legit Hall of Fame candidate.

• The Phillies have an issue if they get past Game 6, which would be Pedro Martinez, as there is no logical Game 7 pitcher, considering Cole Hamels' struggles. Hamels has raised a few eyebrows by suggesting that it's bad luck that he has posted four straight mediocre or worse starts this postseason. The Philly papers say they can't use Hamels anymore, but manager Charlie Manuel can surprise folks by sticking with pitchers others have deemed as done. It could be a combination of Hamels, J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton and Game 5 starter Cliff Lee that will have to piece it together if they get to Game 7.

• If the Phillies don't come back to win this Series, Manuel will be criticized for not employing Lee on short rest with Games 4 and 7 starts. But while Lee told him he'd do whatever Manuel ordered, Lee also told him that he's never pitched on three days' rest. To think he could do it twice in one week would seem to be a stretch. That's one great thing about CC Sabathia. As Johnny Damon put it, "He's our workhorse.''

• Reggie Jackson was asked to name the seven players with the most power he ever saw, and here's his list: 1. Frank Howard. 2. Dave Kingman. 3. Dick Allen. 4. Willie Stargell. 5. Willie McCovey. 6. Mickey Mantle. 7. Reggie himself. As for Alex Rodriguez, Reggie said, "He has as much power as anybody to the opposite field.''

• Kudos to Johnny Damon for his nine-pitch at-bat in the ninth against Brad Lidge in Game 4, followed by his hit and his steal of second and third on one pitch (he smartly took advantage of a stark overshift on Mark Teixeira by heading for third after popping up on his slide at second. "A great instinctual play,'' third base coach Robby Thompson said. "I can't take any credit.''

• Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen has decided to stay in Boston with increased responsibility rather than join new Padres GM Jed Hoyer. Hazen's Padres offer was first reported by Nick Cafardo in the Boston Globe. The Padres also have considered Yankees executive Damon Oppenheimer for an assistant GM job.

• The alleged trade talks that would send Vernon Wells to the Cubs for Milton Bradley that was reported in the Toronto Sun makes some sense, but the Jays would presumably have to send a lot of money to Chicago to offset Wells' absurd $126 million contract. A Cubs source told Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune that such trade talk "has no legs.'' But if you're holding Bradley, do you really want to rule anything out? "He's practically a release,'' one competing GM said. The Padres were thought to have some interest, but the firing of Kevin Towers may not have helped that cause. Hard to imagine a new GM taking that risk.

• While Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman appears now to be the logical choice to stay as manager -- "Can they really turn him down now, after the other managing jobs are gone?'' wondered one competing exec -- some other names are surfacing. The Nats are expected to interview Tim Foli and a couple others if they haven't already. Bobby Valentine has been considered (Tommy Lasorda recommended Valentine to the club-owning Lerners). But that might be a tough fit, as the Nats are said to be looking to pay less than $1 million for the job.

Jason Bay's agent, Joe Urbon, who contends that his client is the "most complete player'' available as a free agent this winter, pointed out one interesting stat: Bay, along with Albert Pujols and A-Rod, are the only three hitters with at least 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and 100 runs in four of the last five years.

• It's a Razorback matchup in World Series Game 5, as Phillies ace Lee opposes A.J. Burnett. They live 15 minutes apart in Arkansas. Or, as Burnett put it, "You've got two country boys from Arkansas going out who are represented by the same guy.'' Burnett was talking about agent Darek Braunecker, who showed he is no hick by negotiating Burnett's $82.5 million Yankees contract last winter.

• Anyone who thinks Derek Jeter winning the Hank Aaron Award for offense (Albert Pujols won the NL version of the award) shows an East Coast bias should remember that the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez won it last year, when many players had better stats, yet no one claimed there was a Midwest bias. The Aaron awards are voted on by fans. Jeter's victory seemed to upset some stat people, and of course Joe Mauer had a better offensive season statistically, but it's just a little silly to denigrate Jeter at this moment, when another of his incredible October performances has the Yankees within one game of a championship. As one NL scout said, "He should go into the Hall of Fame right now. He shouldn't have to wait.''

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