The improbable path to redemption for Alex Rodriguez climaxed Thursday night when he helped lead the Yankees across the finish line to their first playoff berth since 2012.
It capped a season that began with the ignominy of his return from a one-year suspension for PED use, but the 40-year-old designated hitter surprised everyone not only with his production but with the careful steps he took to mend fences along the way.
"I do take a minute to feel extremely grateful for the opportunity I've gotten," Rodriguez said amid the clubhouse celebration that followed a 4-1 victory over Boston that clinched a berth in the AL wild-card game on Tuesday night. "In January, honestly, my number one goal was to make the team. They gave me an opportunity, and I'm thankful for it."
What Rodriguez did with the opportunity was beyond anyone's wildest projections. With three games left in the regular season, he has a team-high 33 home runs and 86 RBIs.
Rodriguez credited hitting coaches Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell and the players around him for his success.
"I think it benefits me to be in the middle of so many great lefthanded hitters," Rodriguez said. "I think Jeff and Alan, our hitting coaches, have done a phenomenal job with our young hitters and our veterans, old goats, like [manager Joe] Girardi calls us.
"But our job's not done. A lot of people asked me if we were going to celebrate today, and my answer was, 'Darn right we're going to celebrate.' We worked really hard for eight months to put us in a position to win a world championship, and we're here now, and it starts with step one."
One more win by the Yankees or one more loss by Houston means the wild-card game will be played at Yankee Stadium. "Tuesday's going to be exciting," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully, it's right here in the Bronx and our fans are going to be ready and riled up and give us a boost."
In the first season without retired captain Derek Jeter, there was some question where the Yankees' leadership would come from. No doubt, it came as a surprise to many that Rodriguez figured so prominently in filling that void along with the likes of Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia.
"We know the downside of having older players, but there's also some good things," Rodriguez said. "There's perspective and there's leadership. And there's times like this week when things are a little rocky, we're able to rally the troops, talk to them individually and as a team, and really give them a little perspective of where we're at."
Rodriguez praised the addition of rookies Greg Bird and Rob Refsnyder, each of whom hit a solo home run in the clincher, as well as Luis Severino, who is scheduled to start Friday night in Baltimore.
"They're an integral part of our team," Rodriguez said. "We wouldn't be here without our farm system . . . These kids are special. They not only come up with a lot of respect but they know how to play winning baseball."
Now it's on to the game that will determine whether the Yankees' season continues past Tuesday, but Rodriguez figures a foot in the door is all they need to make something happen.
Asked if he could have imagined such an ending to his comeback season, he said, "I always believed. There's something about wearing this uniform that gave me an incredible amount of confidence."