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WORLD SERIES

Rodriguez Strikes Again

October 21, 2002|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

Every week the Angels seem to come up with a new nickname for Francisco Rodriguez, the 20-year-old phenom who has made mannequins of opposing batters since his major league debut on Sept. 18, freezing them with his knee-buckling sliders.

First it was Frankie. Then it was F-Rod. Then it was K-Rod. Now, some teammates are calling him Paco, Spanish for Frankie.

After Sunday night's dazzling display, when Rodriguez retired nine straight batters from the sixth through eighth innings of the Angels' dramatic 11-10 victory over the San Francisco Giants in Game 2 of the World Series, his teammates went a step further, inventing new words to describe the reliever.

"He's unfazeable," fellow reliever Ben Weber said after Rodriguez struck out four in a remarkable 26-pitch stint, which included 22 strikes. "Is that a word? I don't know ... all I know is that for this kid to be doing this on the stage he's doing it now is unheard of."

When Rodriguez took center stage Sunday night, replacing Weber to start the top of the sixth inning, the teams had already combined for 17 runs and 23 hits in a slugfest that looked as if it might go on all night. The Angels were trailing, 9-8, at the time, and desperately needing relief.

Rodriguez struck out Rich Aurilia looking at a slider and Jeff Kent swinging at a slider, and Barry Bonds grounded to first. Rodriguez threw seven pitches in the inning; all were strikes.

After Garret Anderson's clutch two-out, game-tying RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, Rodriguez struck out Benito Santiago on three pitches to start the seventh. He jumped ahead of J.T. Snow with two strikes and extended his string of consecutive strikes to 12 before finally throwing a ball.

Snow eventually grounded out to first, and Reggie Sanders struck out looking at a slider to end the inning. The right-hander wasn't quite as dominating in the eighth, getting David Bell to fly to center, Shawon Dunston to pop to first and Kenny Lofton to ground back to the mound, with the cat-like Rodriguez leaping to snag Lofton's one-hopper and tossing to first.

"I don't want to offend Pedro Martinez," Weber said, referring to the Boston Red Sox ace who may possess baseball's best breaking pitch, "but look at that slider [Rodriguez was throwing]. Guys were missing it by three feet. If it's not Pedro-like, it may be better.

"His fastball is explosive, his slider ... absolute filth. And he probably has a changeup that he hasn't even broken out yet."

Tim Salmon's two-run homer in the eighth gave the Angels the lead, and Rodriguez gave way to closer Troy Percival, who, despite Barry Bonds' 485-foot home run, preserved the victory for Rodriguez, making him the youngest pitcher to win a World Series game.

Rodriguez, the native of Caracas, Venezuela, improved to 5-0 with an 1.38 earned-run average in the playoffs, giving up two runs on four hits and striking out 19 in 13 innings. He tied Randy Johnson for the most victories in a postseason, a record the Arizona left-hander set in 2001.

"This is like a dream come true," Rodriguez said. "One win in the postseason was great, and now I have five. If I'm dreaming, I don't want to wake up."

What has impressed the Angels most about Rodriguez, perhaps even more than his repertoire of nasty pitches, is his composure.

In a tense World Series game, with an Edison Field crowd of 44,584 cranking up the volume every time he went two strikes on a batter, Rodriguez was a picture of serenity.

"What he has you can't teach," Angel pitching coach Bud Black said. "The bottom line is he's a fearless pitcher with a lot of talent."

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