Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees strikes out...

Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees strikes out to end the game against the Detroit Tigers. (Oct. 6, 2011) Credit: Jim McIsaac

There he was, standing at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with a chance to not only save the season but save himself from the criticism.

Since coming to the Yankees before the 2004 season, Alex Rodriguez has talked of reveling in the big moments, the ones in which Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera have thrived in for years. And Thursday night, he got a chance to come through not once but twice.

With the Yankees trailing by a run and two outs in the ninth inning of ALDS Game 5 Thursday night, Rodriguez came to the plate with the season on the line. He had struck out twice, grounded out and walked in his previous four at-bats, but he had a chance to turn everything around with one swing. But Jose Valverde struck him out on four pitches, sealing the Tigers' 3-2 victory with a 94-mph four-seamer.

"Always confident, always confident," Rodriguez said in discussing that final at-bat. "There's no regrets. If I had an at-bat right now, I feel like I would do something. Baseball's one of those games. Maybe in years past, I felt like I put too much pressure on myself, but absolutely no regrets."

A-Rod wound up the series 2-for-18 with six strikeouts. Asked how he felt after whiffing on Valverde's final pitch, he was brutally honest. "I felt like ---- " he said.

Rodriguez had an even better chance to do some damage in the seventh inning. With the bases loaded and one out, he struck out on five pitches against Max Scherzer. Mark Teixeira walked to make it 3-2, but Nick Swisher struck out to end the inning.

Joe Girardi said perhaps Rodriguez's physical problems -- the knee and thumb injuries he played through late in the season -- could have caught up to him at the worst possible time. But Girardi added, "Players aren't going to make excuses, either. The bottom line is we lost pretty close games. As I said, a hit here, a hit there, this is a different series.''

The Yankees ultimately were done in by the disappearing act by the middle of the order. Rodriguez hit just .111, Teixeira .167 and Swisher .211.

Rodriguez went 0-for-10 in the first three games of the series, but he said Tuesday that he was proud of his at-bats in a 2-for-4 performance in the Yankees' Game 4 win in Detroit. He appeared more than confident that he could -- and would -- get that crucial hit in the next big moment that presented itself. He flashed a smile at the TV cameras that night as if to say the deciding game of the ALDS was bound to be different for him.

But it wasn't.

And so in the end, it was the Tigers who celebrated on the Yankees' turf, dancing and hugging on the grass near second base. And while that celebration was taking place, Rodriguez was solemnly clutching his glove and cap in his hands and heading toward the bowels of Yankee Stadium.

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