- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 21, 2009

ANAHEIM, Calif. | It has taken six years, but Alex Rodriguez is finally producing in the postseason for the New York Yankees. CC Sabathia, making his first postseason appearance in pinstripes, is coming up huge from the start.

And thanks to the efforts of both superstars with nine-figure contracts, the Yankees are on the cusp of their first American League pennant since either player joined the roster.

Another October home run by Rodriguez and another dominant pitching performance from Sabathia highlighted New York’s 10-1 thrashing of the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night in Game 4 of an American League Championship Series that is now all but wrapped up by the best team money can buy.

With one more win - perhaps as soon as Thursday - the Yankees will dispatch the Angels and advance to their record 40th World Series but their first since 2003. The past six years have seen the Steinbrenner family shell out billions to free agents in an attempt to return to their familiar place atop the baseball world, but not until this month have the pieces finally come together at the right time.

Now the Yankees at last seem to be clicking, and it’s perhaps not a coincidence that the two men most responsible for it are the highest-paid position player and the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history.

Forget about Rodriguez’s past playoff failures; he’s wiping them all out with a two-week binge for the ages. With a 3-for-4 performance Tuesday night, A-Rod is batting .407 with five homers, 11 RBI and a stunning .889 slugging percentage in seven games this postseason.

“The game slows down for you, no doubt about it,” he said. “You feel like you see the ball and hit it hard and not try to do too much. I think the best way I can describe it is the game slows down a little bit.”

Sabathia has been just as brilliant when called upon to pitch this month. After eight sparkling innings Tuesday, he’s 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA, striking out 20 while walking only three.

“This is the time to do it,” he said. “I’ve been feeling well, pretty much the whole second half. I feel good, and hopefully I can just keep it going, keep it rolling and we win the whole thing.”

Manager Joe Girardi’s decision to bring his ace back on short rest quickly was proved the right one. Sabathia needed only 37 pitches to get through four scoreless innings, an infield single by Juan Rivera the lone blemish.

“He was spectacular again,” Girardi said. “To be able to shut this club down like he did is no easy feat.”

Angels starter Scott Kazmir managed to escape the first three innings without allowing a run, but the left-hander was teetering on the brink of disaster all night, and it finally caught up to him in the fourth. A Rodriguez single and a double put runners in scoring position with no one out, and though Kazmir got Robinson Cano to hit a bouncer to second, Howie Kendrick’s throw to the plate was high and too late to get Rodriguez.

To that point, New York hitters had been inept in clutch situations, just 3-for-34 in the series with runners in scoring position and hitless in their past 26 at-bats. Given the talent in that lineup, the streak had to end eventually, and sure enough when Melky Cabrera lined a two-run single to left, the Yankees at last had a key hit.

Rodriguez’s subsequent two-run homer off reliever Jason Bulger extended the Yankees’ lead to 5-0, a comfortable cushion not even a suspect umpiring crew could derail.

This postseason already had been defined by a string of botched calls, and three more were added to the ledger Tuesday. Second base umpire Dale Scott called Nick Swisher safe on an obvious pickoff play in the fourth, and crew chief Tim McClelland made two mistakes in a span of two innings.

In the fourth, McClelland called Swisher out for tagging up too early on a sacrifice fly to center. (Replays revealed the ump wasn’t even looking at Swisher when the catch was made.) In the fifth, McClelland inexplicably ruled only one Yankees baserunner out on a rundown play despite the fact catcher Mike Napoli clearly tagged both players without either’s foot being on the base.

The crowd of 45,160 booed McClelland - who admitted he made errors on both plays after the game - and Angels manager Mike Scioscia argued to no avail. By night’s end, any remaining energy inside the ballpark was being provided by the sizable contingent of Yankees fans, who are sure to be back out in full force Thursday to watch their beloved franchise seek a World Series berth six years in the making.

“We’re still in this,” Scioscia said. “The only way that you’re going to reach that goal is after tomorrow, we come back and play. From pitch one, you have to be ready to grind it out all the way through. I hope to get it back to New York.”

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