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NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez picked up his second career American League Most Valuable Player Award on Monday, becoming the first Yankees player in 20 years to capture that honor.

Rodriguez hit .321 with 48 home runs and 130 RBIs this season, helping New York to its eighth consecutive AL East title.

Just hours after he was informed of his MVP victory, Rodriguez took some time to talk with's Mark Feinsand.

In this exclusive Q&A, A-Rod discusses his impressive season, his disappointing postseason, what the MVP Award means to him and what the Yankees need to do in order to get to the World Series in 2006. What does this award mean to you?

Rodriguez: This award is very special to me, for a couple of reasons. First, doing it in a Yankees uniform is unbelievable. Second, to win it twice in three years, knowing how hard this game can be, it's what I strive for every year. I strive to be consistent, and this shows that I am. Is it more special the first time or the second time?

Rodriguez: They're both special. The first one was a huge surprise because I was on a last-place team in Texas. It's almost like having two kids -- you love them both, but you love them differently.

Doing it in a Yankees uniform, being the first guy to win it on this team in 20 years, that's special to me. Does it feel more significant winning the MVP Award on a first-place team rather than a last-place team?

Rodriguez: Yeah, it does. The way we wound up as a first-place team this year makes it even better. That we had to overcome a nine-game deficit to beat the Red Sox, to play well in September and help this team win a division was incredible. How much do you think defense played into you winning this award?

Rodriguez: I think it helped a lot. I think the two defining factors that helped me the most were that we won the division and that I played Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base. Down the stretch, I thought that made the biggest difference.

That said, I have to congratulate David Ortiz on having a fantastic year. He's just become a monster, offensively. He's the most improved player I've ever played against from the first half of his career to the second half of his career. You have come a long way as a third baseman and, as you said, your play in the field probably won this award for you. Was it disappointing to not win your first Gold Glove at your new position?

Rodriguez: I thought that was more of a sure thing than the MVP. I saw so many people write about it, had so many people tell me throughout the year that they thought I was going to win it, so you get these expectations in your head.

I woke up this morning feeling like I was even money, 50-50, going up against David Ortiz. He had a monster year. Were you surprised that the poker story made front-page news in New York?

Rodriguez: No. When you don't have any news, I realize now that everything I do -- whether it's true or not -- becomes a big story. It was a simple case of a couple of my friends coming up from Miami, and I was relaxing at the end of the year.

It was quite dumb -- something I shouldn't have done. The significance of the game was probably a few dollars here and there, bingo-style. I shouldn't have done it, I learned from it, and I'll never go back. I've moved on, because it's not that big a deal. You're the first Yankees player to win the MVP Award since your hitting coach, Don Mattingly, in 1985. What are your thoughts on that?

Rodriguez: I think it's pretty cool. He's been so helpful to me, and the fact that we're together in the same uniform, representing the same organization, is great. I've always looked up to Don Mattingly, so to be the first guy to win the award in this uniform since him is pretty neat. You have had about six weeks to reflect on it -- do you have any further thoughts on the way the Division Series loss to the Angels played out?

Rodriguez: No, I stunk. I thought Mike Scioscia and Buddy Black had a very good plan against me, and they executed it perfectly. My only regret is that toward the end, I got a little anxious, and expanded the strike zone a little bit.

Looking back, I probably should have walked 10 or 12 times. That's it. I've seen players like Barry Bonds go through it, I saw Vladimir Guerrero struggle this year. Sometimes in the postseason, they circle a few guys and single them out. They did that to me. Have you gotten over that series, or will it linger with you all winter?

Rodriguez: When you have a daughter as cute as my daughter is, it's a lot easier to overcome those kinds of things. We win as a team and we lose as a team, but I know I didn't bring to the table what I know I'm capable of bringing to the table. That's going to fuel me as we go into the 2006 season. You called yourself "a dog" after Game 5 ended. Do you think that was the emotion talking, or do you believe that?

Rodriguez: When I play well, I brush it under the rug, because I expect so much out of myself. When I play poorly, I'm my own worst critic. I don't take it back, because it's the way I felt. It came from the heart, I was being very honest and that's the way I played. After your first year with the Yankees, which was not what people expected out of you, what did it mean to you to respond with this kind of year and win an MVP Award?

Rodriguez: Even winning the MVP, until I win the MVP, win the World Series and am the MVP of the World Series, it won't be complete. And even if I do all of that, I better get off to a good start the next April, because my expectations are so high.

I'm happy with what I've done over the last 11 years. I look back at a talk I had with Joe Torre, and the talk I had with the Boss, and those two conversations helped me get even more comfortable this year. I think year three will be even better, and I'm excited for Spring Training to get started. How do you handle all the criticism that comes your way?

Rodriguez: I get criticism everywhere, and I really don't understand it. At the same time, I think it comes with the territory of being a very good player. I love my teammates, I'm very close with them, and I love to play the game. I respect the game and I respect my opponents. I guess I'm a big target and an easy one. Do you think the criticism is unfair, or do you just accept it as part of playing in New York?

Rodriguez: First of all, I think I'm one of the most blessed people in this world. For me to say something is unfair, I'd be a crazy person.

It is what it is, and I handle it. When I retire, I'm going to come home, and they can criticize somebody else. I don't really worry about it. What was the hardest thing for you about this season?

Rodriguez: Obviously, it was not getting where we need to go, which is to the World Series, and winning it. At the same time, I'm so proud of overtaking the Red Sox for the division when we were behind by so many games. It was a case of us running out of gas. We were a tired bunch, and the Angels played better than us. What do you think the Yankees have to do this winter to get better?

Rodriguez: I think the White Sox taught us all a lesson, that it's all about pitching, defense and speed. When you have any questions, you get more pitching, more defense and more team speed. That's a recipe that has worked for over 100 years, and that will never go away. How closely do you follow the offseason moves and the Hot Stove rumors?

Rodriguez: Before, it was all I ever thought about. Right now, with my family, my daughter has her first birthday coming up. I'm very excited about it. I think I'm going to be a clown and get a nice costume. That's really all I'm worried about right now.

I'm really looking forward to next year. I think we have as good a chance as anybody to be world champs in 2006. Are there any rumors or names that you have heard that made you think, "That would really be a great move for us?"

Rodriguez: I heard John Olerud's name come up, and that really excited me. He's an incredible player, and I think he could be a championship first baseman. How important do you think it is that Torre and Brian Cashman are returning?

Rodriguez: I think it's awesome. I thought Brian and Joe did their finest job as general manager and manager this season, because it was such a transition year for us with all of the injuries we had.

Cashman really saved our year with Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon and Al Leiter. Those three moves were everything for us. Considering the career numbers of several Hall of Famers in the postseason -- Ted Williams and Barry Bonds come to mind -- is it easy for you to forget about an October like this one?

Rodriguez: I wish every postseason and season could be perfect, but it can't be. I'm a target, a player that the other team doesn't want to beat them. I was very prepared for the playoffs, it just didn't work out. Sometimes that happens. At the end of the day, you have to just move forward.

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