A-Rod laments strikeout in 'dream at-bat'

Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees strikes

Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees strikes out with the bases loaded in the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers in Game 5 of the ALDS. A-Rod was 2-for-18 in the series, won by Detroit, 3-2. (Oct. 6, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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On one hand, Alex Rodriguez said, it was a loss so painful it still will hurt when he is 50. On the other, he planned to wake up Friday feeling "just fine, because I left it all out there."

Such were the mixed emotions he expressed during 20 minutes at his locker after the Yankees' season ended Thursday night.

Rodriguez painstakingly addressed every pointed and painful question, in two languages. But the most important question, given the six remaining years on the 36-year-old third baseman's 10-year, $275-million contract, is this: Can he still be a 30-homer, 100-RBI hitter?

"Without a question," he said before adding, "Again, it's hard to really judge what you can do when you have 99 or 100 games."

That was a reference to the time he missed because of injuries, notably midseason knee surgery and a sprained thumb, that limited him to 99 regular-season games. He finished with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs, by far the lowest of his career since he became an everyday player in 1996.

Rodriguez repeatedly insisted that health had nothing to do with his 2-for-18 ALDS, including three strikeouts in Game 5. "Absolutely no excuses," he said.

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But he also repeatedly said he never was fully healthy after April and never regained his rhythm upon returning from the knee surgery Aug. 21, then injuring his left thumb.

"When you have a knee surgery in the middle of the year, it just messes everything up," Rodriguez said. "Baseball is a game of repetition. It's a game of 145, 150 games and 600 at-bats . . . Baseball is a game you can't just turn off the switch and turn it on."

Pressed to explain how he could be out of sync in the regular season but not have that affect him in the playoffs, he insisted he was "healthy enough" to do his job.

He said he did not regret having the surgery, which was timed to have him ready for October. Instead, he was an ALDS bust, along with most of the rest of the middle of the Yankees' batting order.

Rodriguez made the last out of the ALDS when Jose Valverde struck him out. (He also struck out to end last year's ALCS.) But the strikeout that bothered him more came in the seventh inning against Joaquin Benoit, with one out and the bases loaded.

"Those are dream at-bats, at-bats I relish," he said. "I had a lot of confidence I'd get something done there in a positive way. He threw me a 1-2 splitter and I laid off it and I couldn't lay off the other one."

Fans went from chanting "A-Rod, A-Rod" to booing him back into the dugout. "Rightfully so," he said. "We're expected to win just like they're expecting to win. We have the greatest fans in the world. They expect big things."

Rodriguez said he put too much pressure on himself in years past but felt loose and confident this time, a byproduct of his 2009 postseason success.

Calm or tense, he knows he must produce more than he did during the past week.

"I just have to get back to being healthy 100 percent and back to the form that my team needs me to do so we can win," he said. He said he has "a very good game plan of what I have to do" but wouldn't elaborate.

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"No question, I have a lot to prove, and I'm looking forward to that challenge," he said. "I'm going to come back with a vengeance, and this team will, too."

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