Alex Rodriguez reacts after popping up against the Cincinnati Reds...

Alex Rodriguez reacts after popping up against the Cincinnati Reds at Yankee Stadium. (May 20, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

Alex Rodriguez watched LeBron James celebrate his first championship Thursday night and couldn't help but think of 2009. "I know exactly how he felt and I was very happy for him," A-Rod said Friday at Citi Field.

Rodriguez, of course, was saddled with much of the reputation James brought into this year's NBA Finals -- a player who hadn't won a championship and was seen as shrinking from, rather than embracing, the big moment.

Rodriguez helped lead the Yankees to the title in 2009, hitting .365 with six homers and 18 RBIs in the postseason.

"For me, I think everything changed in '09 and I had a chance to enjoy the game again," Rodriguez said.

There's this common thread as well: After signing his 10-year, $252-million contract with the Rangers before the 2001 season, A-Rod became the sport's top villain. James could relate, as his reputation ended up in tatters after "The Decision."

"Playing the villain's never fun and it's tiring," Rodriguez said. "It's definitely not exciting. It's not all it's built up to be . . . Hopefully for him, people get to focus on his greatness and his unique talent. He's something very special. Hopefully, his career can now take a deep breath, relax and we can all enjoy it."

Memories

Ivan Nova, Saturday night's starter, pitched well in his last outing at Citi Field, but the 25-year-old doesn't have the best memories of the place.

The day after allowing one run in five innings last July 1, Nova was sent to the minors because of a numbers crunch in the rotation. "Since that day, I don't like the Mets," he said with a laugh. "I don't like the Mets, I don't like this stadium. I love New York but sorry for the Mets."

A bit on O-Rod

One talent evaluator on 19-year-old Cuban lefthander Omar Luis Rodriguez, signed by the Yankees on Wednesday: "Good arm, throws hard, he's aggressive. Has the makings of a good breaking ball and changeup. He does a lot of good things. Pretty strong guy. Looks like pretty good command of his pitches."

Rodriguez will start his pro career in the Dominican Summer League.

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