Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs and the
"There's no way out," manager Joe Torre said. "There it is: You either produce, or you're going to read about yourself again."
This time was different. This time, A-Rod wound up getting shoved back onto the field by Derek Jeter for a curtain call.
Down to his last strike, Rodriguez came through in the most dramatic way, sending a soaring drive into the center-field bleachers, Yankee Stadium's famed black seats. His grand slam off Chris Ray, A-Rod's second home run Saturday, gave the Yankees a memorable 10-7 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
"It felt awesome," Rodriguez said in the clubhouse, still smiling, the ball perched on a shelf in his locker. "I was so excited, I felt like a fool running around the bases, like it was Little League."
New York fell behind by five runs early, and Igawa left after five mediocre innings with a 7-3 deficit. Dice-K he wasn't.
"Somehow, I knew it was going to come to down to me. Even with two outs and nobody on," Rodriguez said. "Somehow or another, it always ends up with me somewhere."
Rodriguez then connected on a 1-2 fastball. As soon as he hit it, he knew it was gone, and what remained of a crowd announced at 50,510 on a 39-degree afternoon went wild.
On Thursday, he popped out with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth inning of a 7-6 loss to Tampa Bay.
"It's something about New York, that I love it here," Rodriguez said. "There's just energy. It's crazy, one way or another. Every night is always exciting."
A-Rod arrived at spring training, admitted after several years of denials that he and Jeter no longer were best buddies and has seemed more relaxed than during his first three seasons with the Yankees. He can't erase going 4-for-41 (.098) without an RBI in his last 12 playoff games dating to 2004 and was dropped to eighth in the batting order in last year's final game, but carrying New York to big regular-season wins would be a start to putting past failures behind. He was 3-for-4 with six RBI Saturday, hitting a two-run homer and doubling, and is batting .389 with three homers and nine RBI.
Fans wanted a curtain call, and Jeter took the initiative to make sure A-Rod gave them one.
"We needed that," Jeter said. "We didn't want to waste another game."
Rodriguez has 14 slams and three of them ended games, tying the major league mark shared by Vern Stephens (1946, 1949, 1950) and Cy Williams (1924 and twice in 1926).
"He's a big key to this team," said Giambi, who last year criticized Rodriguez for not getting enough big hits. "We are definitely rooting for him. There is not a situation where we want him to do bad. We want him to do great."
Mariano Rivera (1-0) pitched a one-hit ninth, completing four shutout innings for New York's bullpen. Yankees starters have allowed 22 runs -- 19 earned -- and 28 hits in 17 1-3 innings for a 9.87 ERA.
Igawa was the fourth flop in a row for the rotations. Two days after Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched seven dominating innings to win his debut for the Boston Red Sox, Igawa started hearing boos after his 12th batter. He failed to string together a 1-2-3 inning and gave up seven runs, eight hits, three walks, a hit batter and two home runs, a performance that left him with a 12.60 ERA.
"Please don't compare me to Matsuzaka," he said through a translator, "but as a Japanese, I have to do my job."
His fastball, clocked from 89-91 mph, was the only pitch he consistently threw for a strike. Nick Markakis hit an opposite-field homer into the left-field seats in the first. Melvin Mora, who tied a career high with five RBI, had a three-run double in the second after the 26-year-old left-hander walked Brian Roberts with the bases loaded.
When Igawa bobbled Markakis' nubber in front on the mound for an error, fans started booing, The jeers were louder when Mora added a two-run homer in the fourth for a 7-2 lead.
"He threw funky, but he had a pretty good fastball," Mora said. "Maybe today was not one of his better days."
Baltimore, which had been hoping for its first 2-0 start at Yankee Stadium since 1997, was understandably depressed. Ray said he left the fastball to A-Rod up.
"He just looked like he was trying to overthrow to me," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "He was rushing his delivery."
New York evened its record at 2-2 and avoided what would have been a three-game losing streak, an unacceptable skid at any time of the season. Having heard the boos, A-Rod embraced the cheers.
"I'm doing the best I can to enjoy the game," he said. "I'm in a good place."
- Hideki Matsui strained his left hamstring running out a second-inning grounder and left in the fourth. Torre said he probably wouldn't play until Friday in Oakland. Johnny Damon still recovering from a strained right calf, pinch hit in the eighth and struck out, then went to center.
- Steve Trachsel, making his debut with the Orioles after six seasons with the New York Mets, gave up four hits in 6 2/3 innings, allowing his only runs on A-Rod's first homer and Jorge Posada's RBI single in the fourth.