Just when it seemed safe to deride New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez for that greatest of baseball sins - choking on Big Apple postseason appearances - Rodriguez has done a neat turnaround in the last two weeks.

During the playoffs against the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels, Rodriguez shook off his mocking "Mr. July" nickname and transformed himself into an October misery for opposing pitchers.

"I will say that in other postseasons I failed, and sometimes failed miserably," Rodriguez said. "It certainly feels good to come through for my team and help the team win."

As the Phillies enter the World Series against a stacked Yankees lineup, the most dangerous spot in the batting order is occupied by a cleanup hitter who began the baseball year defending himself against charges of steroid stacking.

Liking Rodriguez has never been easy for fans of other teams, and sometimes not for fans of the three teams for which he has played in 16 major-league seasons. Former manager Joe Torre said Rodriguez was called "A-Fraud" by his New York teammates, although Torre later claimed that was just a reflection of tough clubhouse humor that played on Rodriguez's me-first reputation.

Regardless of that reputation and despite earning a salary that would be difficult for anyone to justify on the field, Rodriguez has compiled career numbers that place him among the elite of this or any baseball generation.

At 34, he has added a new layer to his accomplishments, hitting .438 in the 2009 postseason, with five home runs, nine walks, and 12 runs batted in. He has driven home at least one run in eight of the nine games and hit safely in all of them.

"He's been on a mission," manager Joe Girardi said.

The mission this season began in spring training when Rodriguez's name surfaced as one of those who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during the supposedly anonymous testing program in 2003.

His explanation, given during a March news conference in which his teammates stood literally and symbolically behind him, was that he took a substance purchased over the counter in the Dominican Republic that he wasn't sure was illegal. That explanation ran counter to the sophisticated cocktail of drugs allegedly found in his system, but, rightly or wrongly, the damage had been done.

Rodriguez missed the first month of the season after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst and repair a torn labrum in his right hip, but he was still able to hit 30 home runs and record 100 RBIs, his 12th straight season reaching those milestones.

"I came in with no expectations," Rodriguez said. "I was scared. I feared that I wouldn't be able to contribute. I had a lot of limitations, and the whole year for me was about trusting my teammates and being one of the guys."

That has never come easily for Rodriguez, who entered the major leagues with the Seattle Mariners in 1994, making his debut two weeks shy of his 19th birthday.

He spent seven seasons with Seattle before leaving amid clubhouse rumors that he was something less than a great teammate. He signed with the Texas Rangers in 2001, receiving a record 10-year, $252-million contract and that season, feeling pressured to perform, is when he says he began using the performance-enhancing drugs.

In three seasons with Texas, he hit 156 home runs and, in 2003, won the first of three American League most valuable player awards. He then decamped for New York, moving from shortstop to third base, won two more MVP awards, and renegotiated a contract before the 2008 season for a record $275 million over 10 years.

The youngest player to reach 500 home runs, Rodriguez now has 583. If he maintains his yearly 30-home run pace for two more seasons, he will rank behind only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays. That's nice company, particularly for a man who will be playing his first World Series game tonight.

He enters that first real try for a championship as a hot hitter for a change. Entering this postseason, he had eight hits in his previous 61 postseason at-bats, going back to the 2004 playoffs. During that span, he was 0 for 29 with runners on base. Those are just numbers in the past now.

"I'm just in a good place," Rodriguez said. "I'm seeing the ball and I'm hitting it. I mean, that's about it."

Things have rarely been so simple for Rodriguez, whose personal life has been public fodder for the New York press and whose chilly relationship with team captain Derek Jeter has often turned the left side of the Yankees infield into a passion play of good and evil.

In this rarest of Octobers for him, with girlfriend Kate Hudson beaming from the stands, Rodriguez is approaching something resembling redemption - at least in the minds of New York fans.

For others, the change is more difficult to accept. It is there, however, in the daily march of box scores that have led him to this point where the agate type of what happens next will be magnified beyond all that has come before.