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Alex Rodriguez sets his sights on the hearings that begin Monday

Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees looks on from

Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees looks on from the dugout against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. (Sept. 26, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

HOUSTON - Alex Rodriguez declared his 2013 season over before Saturday night's game at Minute Maid Park. But in looking ahead to Monday's hearing with Major League Baseball and the chance to challenge his 211-game suspension, A-Rod told everyone within earshot that he has not yet begun to fight.

"It's been a big burden,'' he said. "So let's get it on.''

With the Yankees already eliminated from postseason contention, A-Rod chose to shut down his controversial comeback a few days early because of hamstring and calf issues that sprung up during the past two weeks. When the season ends Sunday, however, he will only be getting started in his personal battle to reduce -- or erase -- the record PED suspension levied by Bud Selig on Aug. 5.

Rodriguez said he will attend the hearings, which are scheduled for MLB's Park Avenue headquarters in Manhattan, but he refused to say whether he plans to testify.

"I'll be there every day,'' he said. "I'm fighting for my life and my whole legacy. I should be there.''

By then, the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will be in the rearview mirror and A-Rod will be center stage in the Yankees' universe again.

Rivera confirmed Saturday that Thursday night's emotional exit in the Bronx indeed was his last appearance in a Yankees uniform. For Pettitte, who started Saturday night's game, it was appropriate that his final pitch would be thrown in his native Houston.

With A-Rod, there's no way of knowing when he will play again for the Yankees. That's ultimately in the hands of arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, who is presiding over the hearings. Until then, the lasting image of Rodriguez will be taking a called third strike from David Price in the fifth inning of Wednesday night's 8-3 loss to the Rays.

Not quite the emotional sendoff of his two teammates, but it drew to a close -- albeit temporarily -- one of the more sensational and spectacularly polarizing chapters in Yankees history.

It began with Rodriguez making his 2013 debut in Chicago on the same day he was suspended for 211 games, and with the third baseman in the middle of a public feud with his own front office.

A-Rod's return was a tabloid dream, a continuously unspooling drama that seemingly refreshed itself on a daily basis. And through it all, the Yankees managed to contain the blowback. They even stayed in contention until the final week of the season, thanks in part to the production Rodriguez provided. A late-season slump dropped him to a .244 average with seven home runs, 19 RBIs and a .771 OPS in 44 games.

Aside from the chorus of boos at every ballpark, including the Bronx on occasion, Rodriguez and the Yankees were able to go about their lives in a fairly normal manner. Maybe with the exception of one Ryan Dempster fastball that Aug. 18 night at Fenway Park.

"I could be wrong,'' Joe Girardi said, "but I think this year was the brunt of it. In the beginning, I think there was a lot of attention to it. But I think it all died down and it was business as usual for the most part.''

The hearings could do further damage to A-Rod, however. Both sides are supposed to be bound by a confidentiality agreement, but if more incriminating details leak out, that might make it another bumpy return for Rodriguez when he does come back. He likely had that in mind when asked Saturday if the worst part -- from a baseball perspective -- already might be over.

"You certainly don't want to jinx yourself,'' Rodriguez said. "Obviously this is going to be a grueling process all the way through. I did tell you guys in Trenton that you'll hear the full story when the time is right for me. And that time is not right now.''

Even with the disappointing finish and an uncertain future, Rodriguez sounded confident that he still can play the game at a very high level -- especially once he has the winter to get in shape again. This year, he was hampered by a second hip surgery and could not follow his usual conditioning regimen. At age 38, he also kept getting sidetracked by a series of smaller injuries that slowed his rehab process.

"I think the biggest challenge is behind me,'' he said. "While I was healthy out there, I thought I did OK. So this year, with having a full season of serious training and getting a little lighter, working on some plyometrics.

"I think when you have power, it plays. And it plays when you're older, too. I think there's plenty of examples out there that power plays across the board.''

But that's not of immediate concern to Rodriguez, who has more work to do in the courtroom than the weight room in the coming week. In the midst of what he called "one of the most challenging years'' of his career, A-Rod has the most imposing obstacle approaching quickly.

"The one thing I didn't want to do is be like Dec. 14,'' he said of the hearing date. "And then, A, it's not fair to the Yankees. And B, it's not fair to baseball. Let's go, you know what I mean?''

Taking a moment to look back, would he do anything differently this season?

"No,'' he said. "I wish we were going into the postseason. That's it. But no regrets. It's been a challenge, for sure, all the way through. And I pray for the best.''

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