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A-Rod finally a champion after year of turmoil

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RONALD BLUM | November 4, 2009 11:58 PM EST | AP


NEW YORK — The final out landed in Mark Teixeira's glove, and Alex Rodriguez raised both arms in triumph before running across the infield to hug the first baseman as the rest of the New York Yankees piled on.

He had piled up money in the bank and MVP awards on his mantle. Now he has the one and only prize he's ever wanted – a World Series championship ring.

After six seasons of hits and home runs, heartaches and headaches, he finally earned his pinstripes.

He arrived in spring training exposed and embarrassed, labeled a steroid user from his years with Texas.

"I owe an apology," he said, "not only to my teammates, the whole organization, but every fan all over the world."

Then, weeks later, he wound up on an operating table in Colorado, unsure whether he'd make it on the field.

When he returned from hip surgery, it was a season of superlatives. He homered on his first swing in Baltimore, rousing the Yankees from the slumber of a 13-15 start, and homered on his last of the regular season at Tampa Bay. His three-run homer and grand slam against the Rays that afternoon gave him 30 homers and 100 RBIs for the 12th consecutive year.

And then he did away with the 0-for-October reputation that had stuck to him as much as his three AL MVPs, put together a performance that matched those of the players he seems to most admire, Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter.

A-Rod had been 8 for 59 (.136) in the postseason dating to 2004 and hitless in 18 consecutive playoff at-bats with runners in scoring position.

But this was a new A-Rod, liberated and transformed in his 16th big league season. Finally starting to grow up at age 34, he shed the distractions caused by his $275 million contract and an entourage of handlers he picked up from Madonna. He glowed in his relationship with new girlfriend Kate Hudson.

This A-Rod was a one-man highlight reel.

He chased the Minnesota Twins' starter with an RBI single in the postseason opener, tied the score in the ninth inning of Game 2 with a two-run homer off Joe Nathan and tied the score again with another home run in the seventh inning of Game 3. He hit a tying 11th-inning homer off the Angels' Brian Fuentes in Game 2 of the American League championship series, then homered again in Games 3 and 4.

His only World Series home run, awarded after a video review in Game 3, awoke the Yankees from a 3-0 deficit against Cole Hamels. He led the Yankees in the postseason with a .365 average, six homers, 18 RBIs, 15 runs and 12 walks. After an 0-for-8 start in the Series that included six strikeouts, he was 5 for 12 with six RBIs in the final four games.