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Can't Mystique This Rookie's Stuff

Angels: The 20-year-old Rodriguez strikes out four of six batters he faces in getting his second postseason win.


Even the most diligent scouting reports can be worth less than the paper they're printed on if the player in question has all the tools scouts seek but lacks the poise to perform under pressure when he gets to the Show.

The Angels' reports on 20-year-old right-hander Francisco Rodriguez were uniformly glowing, the praise from their triple-A staff echoing what their double-A personnel had said.

"But you never know until the guy gets here," pitching coach Bud Black said.

And you never know the heights someone is capable of scaling until he gets the chance to reach the top of the mountain.

"Sometimes, you take that leap of faith with somebody," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Sometimes you have to believe and trust."

The Angels' trust in Rodriguez, and their scouting reports, has certainly been vindicated. In the biggest test of his young career, pitching before an Edison Field-record crowd of 45,072 in a game that tipped the balance of power in their American League division series to the Angels' end of the seesaw, Rodriguez added to his budding legend by striking out four in two perfect relief innings and earning the win in the Angels' 9-6 comeback victory over the New York Yankees.

A year ago, Rodriguez was pitching in the Class-A California League. On Friday, he pitched the Angels to within one victory of advancing to the AL championship series and became the first Angel to be credited with two postseason triumphs.

"The New York Yankees--everybody knows they've won so many World Series," said Rodriguez, who was a late September call-up and beat out several veterans for a spot on the postseason roster. "If you make the pitches and keep the ball down, you have a chance. If you make a mistake, those guys are going to hit you."

Say this much for Rodriguez, whose soft-spoken, polite demeanor masks a fierce competitive streak: He's a quick study.

In Game 2 at Yankee Stadium, he learned the hard way that any mistake against New York's savvy hitters will exact a high price. He gave up a two-run home run to second baseman Alfonso Soriano in the sixth inning Wednesday, which gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead, but the Angels rallied and got him off the hook.

He returned the favor Friday.

He struck out Bernie Williams and Robin Ventura in the seventh, and ended the inning by getting Jorge Posada on a soft liner to second. In the eighth, Raul Mondesi momentarily stole the thunder from Angel fans' red Thundersticks by sending left fielder Garret Anderson to the warning track, but Rodriguez kept his cool, striking out Nick Johnson swinging and getting Juan Rivera on a called third strike.

Twenty-four pitches, two perfect innings.

"He has proven he has electric stuff," Williams said in admiration.

The kid from Caracas, Venezuela, can now call Anaheim his own.

"You get adrenaline from the crowd," said Rodriguez, who until a few weeks ago had never played before crowds bigger than 7,000 at triple-A ballparks.

"I just want to go out and throw the ball and have fun. As soon as I cross the line, I want to relax and enjoy the game."

Black compared Rodriguez's poise to that of Bret Saberhagen in 1984 and 1985, when Saberhagen was a starter at 19 and 20 years old.

"He has the same composure," Black said. "He had it together. He's loose.... He's doing what people told us he's capable of doing."

Black said Rodriguez might yet improve his fastball, which peaks at about 94 or 95 mph, and he likes Rodriguez's slider and ability to mix in a changeup or two.

All of which makes teammates confident. "The kid's been doing it every time," John Lackey said. "As far as his stuff, he's as good as it gets. He's stepped up in some big situations."

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