Alex Rodriguez gets another shot in ALCS Game 1, batting sixth

Alex Rodriguez warms up for batting practice before

Alex Rodriguez warms up for batting practice before the start of Game 5 of the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles. (Oct. 12, 2012) (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

Alex Rodriguez being Alex Rodriguez, it took exactly one inning for the ALCS spotlight to find him Saturday night in Game 1.

One day after being benched for ALDS Game 5, the designated lightning rod was back in Joe Girardi's lineup, playing third base and batting sixth, when he came up with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the first.

Unlike nine of his 16 at-bats in the Division Series, Rodriguez did not strike out.

Like the Division Series, he did not come through -- although he gave it a good shot.

Rodriguez pulled a hard ground ball into the hole at short. Had there not been a runner on first base -- or had that runner been faster than 40-year-old Raul Ibañez -- A-Rod might have had an infield hit. Instead, shortstop Jhonny Peralta made a diving stop and barely got Ibañez at second for an inning-ending forceout.

It was the start of another maddening night for Rodriguez, one that leaves Girardi with another difficult decision as the Yankees prepare for Game 2 Sunday.

When Rodriguez came up in the third inning with two outs, this time with Mark Teixeira on first, he strode to the plate to a brief, supportive "A-Rod'' chant.

When he bounced a ball to Peralta to start what became a 6-4-3 double play, some fans booed.

A-Rod's next turn came in the sixth, with runners on second and third and no one out. He struck out on three pitches. Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin also struck out, stranding three runners and leaving the Yankees trailing 2-0.

Naturally, the boos got louder after A-Rod's strikeout, which left him with one hit in his past 20 playoff at-bats with runners in scoring position.

His fourth at-bat never happened. Girardi pinch hit for him with Eric Chavez in the eighth -- the third time in the playoffs Girardi has pinch hit for a man with 647 regular-season home runs.

It was a frustrating start for Rodriguez, who in the previous round suffered the humiliation of being pinch hit for in Games 3 and 4, then became a very expensive reserve Friday night.

Girardi widely was expected to give Rodriguez another try in the ALCS, knowing how much money the franchise has invested in him. Also, the Tigers are not expected to start a lefthanded pitcher in the series, so if Girardi had been unwilling to use Rodriguez against righty Doug Fister, logically he might not have used him in the series at all.

"This is a guy that we expect a lot from," Girardi said in explaining his decision before the game. "He had struggled in the first round, but this is a guy we know can do a lot of damage.

"I talk about sometimes going with my gut and evaluating what I see . . . I think he's raring to go.''

Rodriguez's spot on the field and in the batting order is not guaranteed for the duration of the series, of course. Girardi left open the possibility of giving Chavez a start at third at some point. But for now, A-Rod has been granted his fresh start with the beginning of a new series, like everyone else on the roster.

"I think in a sense, everyone should press the reset button,'' Girardi said. "Forget what happened yesterday. Forget what happened three days ago. Forget what happened in the [previous] series. We have to start off fresh.''

So with the carpet shampoo barely dry after Friday night's champagne celebration, Girardi opted to go back to Rodriguez in hopes of finding a glimmer of his younger self.

"We need this guy to be Alex,'' the manager said before another night in which the magic was not back. "That's the bottom line. If we want to make some noise, we need this guy to be Alex.''

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