Then he rushes into the players' lounge, where most of his teammates are watching the Indians-Twins game, whooping and hollering with nearly every pitch, especially when Minnesota squeezes out a run and then hangs on for a 4-3 win. Seattle's margin over Cleveland remains two games. "So, y'all Twins and Indians fans, huh?" shouts a scowling Arthur Rhodes. The Seattle reliever hasn't watched any of the game. "That don't matter—don't matter at all."
Friday, Sept. 29: Anaheim
Under a warm midday sun on a pleasant Southern California day, Rodriguez works on his stroke. The water temperature is perfect. This is how Rodriguez deals with the pressure of a 3-for-26 slump that has come at the worst possible time: by swimming and sunning by the pool at his hotel. He goes unrecognized—or at least unbothered. Later, in the visiting clubhouse at Edison International Field, Piniella, Seattle general manager Pat Gillick and about 10 Mariners watch the Indians play the Toronto Blue Jays on TV. The Jays take an early 4-0 lead, but no one is cheering. "That's not enough for Trachsel," one player mumbles, referring to Steve Trachsel, the Toronto righthander. Sure enough, Cleveland has a 5-4 lead by the time the Mariners leave to take batting practice. The Indians win 8-4.
Seattle looks tight against Anaheim. Pitcher Paul Abbott, who grew up and lives in Fullerton, Calif., about 10 minutes from the ballpark, surrenders eight runs in five innings. The Mariners produce only five hits—none by Rodriguez—in a 9-3 defeat. In Oakland, the A's rally to beat Texas 7-5 to take over first place. Seattle is only a game ahead of Cleveland in the wild-card race. "We need Alex to get hot," Piniella says. "It's down to a two-game season. He's been chasing some bad pitches. Maybe he's been trying to do too much."
Rodriguez, his slump having deepened to 3 for 29, watches videotape after the game of his four plate appearances: a walk, a groundout, a pop fly and a strikeout. He hasn't hit a home run in 42 at bats, but he finds the tape reassuring. The position of his front foot, which he keeps in the air while recognizing pitches, indicates his timing is better than it was earlier in the week. He's also taking more pitches. He's encouraged when he leaves the clubhouse to go to dinner with his agent, Scott Boras. The two of them will talk about his impending free agency, but they also talk about hitting and how former Seattle batting instructor Lee Elia taught A-Rod to keep his hands "behind his legs," that is, not to be too quick with his hands and lunge at the ball.
As for Abbott, he'll miss a birthday party tomorrow for his three-year-old daughter. Seattle's game was moved from a 7:05 p.m. start to 1:05 p.m. to accommodate the Fox network. The party can't be rescheduled as easily. "Cinderella is going to be there," Abbott says. "Cinderella doesn't wait."
Saturday, Sept. 30: Anaheim
"It seems Alex is trying to hit his 40 home runs," one Seattle coach tells Piniella during batting practice. Rodriguez has been stuck on 38 for 11 games.
"He can fix that with two swings of the bat," Piniella says, laughing.
Rodriguez belts number 39 in the first inning, a two-run shot off righty Tim Belcher that puts the Mariners at ease. Not only do they have a lead—they are 64-27 when they score first, 25-44 when they don't—but they have Rodriguez's bat back. His drought ends with a cloudburst: four hits, a sacrifice fly and seven RBIs in a 21-9 shellacking of the Angels. The deluge includes another homer, a three-run blast to rightfield in the sixth to break open a 6-2 game. This is the third straight season Rodriguez has hit 40 or more home runs. As he sees the ball go out, he raises both arms in the air in triumph, his fists clenched. It is a rare show of emotion by him. "A very significant home run," he says. "It was my 40th, and it kind of broke the game open, so it was very good timing."