Rodriguez slugged a pair of game-winning home runs at Yankee Stadium that sent the third baseman on a race around the bases, events so uplifting that he claimed his thoughts drifted back to his giddy days of Little League success.
"Everyone talks about the walk-offs," Rodriguez said recently, "but ever since Feb. 20th, the first day [of Spring Training], I've been in a good place. I felt comfortable even leading into the season. I thought I swung the bat well. The walk-offs were great, but I've felt great before."
In an April 7 game against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium, Rodriguez made it clear that his 2007 season would feature moments to remember.
Rodriguez brought the Yankees back from a one-run deficit against Orioles closer Chris Ray, connecting on a two-out grand slam -- his second home run of the game -- into the black seats beyond the center-field wall, setting off a raucous celebration at home plate and carrying New York to a 10-7 victory over Baltimore.
"You relish it," Rodriguez said. "As an athlete, you always want to be in that opportunity."
Twelve days later, back in the Bronx against the Indians, Rodriguez was again on center stage as the Yankees clawed back with a two-out rally against Tribe closer Joe Borowski. Trailing by four when the ninth inning began, the frame worked back around to A-Rod, who delivered with a three-run home run that lifted New York to an 8-6 victory.
"It's the new Alex," Johnny Damon said then. "He's taking playing in New York differently. He knows he's bigger, stronger and works harder than anyone, and is just letting that carry him."
Those were just two of the standout moments in the clutch that helped quiet Rodriguez's detractors, ensuring that there was no hangover from a 2006 campaign that the third baseman had called among the most frustrating -- but also greatest -- years of his career.
Rodriguez was selected for the award via fan balloting from a group of candidates that also included White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay, Braves pitcher Tim Hudson and Tigers infielder Placido Polanco.
The honor is one of two new MLB-sanctioned, Pepsi-sponsored awards as part of an ongoing multi-platform marketing campaign involving Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball Advanced Media and Pepsi, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary as the official soft drink of Major League Baseball.
At the conclusion of the 2007 regular season, fans will have the opportunity to vote on the Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Year Presented by Pepsi from among six finalists selected by a special MLB.com editorial panel. Fans will also be able to enter for a chance to win a trip to the 2008 All-Star Game.