After it was all over, the man at the microphone was so emotional, he could not speak. The finality of it sunk in and tears caused him to break down in front of cameras, microphones and reporters.
The man was Joe Girardi.
He was shaken by the farewell to Alex Rodriguez, the lightning rod whom Girardi has defended when few other people did. He was moved by the feelings that broke free when, as manager, he set it up so Rodriguez could play third base for one out in the last inning of his last game as a Yankee — then come back to the dugout and hug his teammates and his manager.
“Me and Alex have been through a lot together,” Girardi said, sniffling from crying. “I have really strong feelings for him. And this has been extremely hard.”
“This” has been a rupture in their relationship lately, with Girardi declining to put Rodriguez in games. It got to the point that the manager became an antihero and Rodriguez a sympathetic figure in the eyes of many fans. When the lineups were announced before the game against the Rays at Yankee Stadium Friday night, with the manager’s name read first, people booed Girardi.
“You know, I think some people think I wanted to make negative decisions, but that’s not the case. I have a huge heart,” Girardi said, his voice breaking and then halting.
“And if this is the last time he played, I wanted to make it something he never forgot.’’
The pregame ceremony was far from perfect. It was rushed and abbreviated by a thunderstorm and a downpour, with Rodriguez, his family and Yankee royalty (including Mariano Rivera) hurrying off the field amid the rain just after Hal Steinbrenner and his wife, Christina, awarded him a matted, framed Yankee uniform No. 13.
It seemed a natural metaphor for his stormy career as a Yankee. It could be seen as a fitting finale to a turbulent time, which Rodriguez acknowledged during a news conference three hours earlier.
“With all my screw-ups and how badly I acted, the fact that I’m walking out the door and Hal wants me as part of the family, that’s hitting 800 home runs for me,” said Rodriguez, who is fourth in baseball history with 696 career homers.
Girardi said it was much different from the farewells for Rivera and Derek Jeter, which occurred at the ends of seasons, with no playoff races at stake. There were ironies, such as the fact that the Yankees won the final three games in which Rodriguez played. “I don’t know how it happens,” Girardi said, “but when you’re a Yankee, there’s always irony.”
But this was different, and it carried some raw edges, at least until the ninth inning Friday night.
“It was really hard telling him nights he wasn’t DHing,” Girardi said. “That was really hard for me because there was a strong relationship there, we’ve done a lot together. He’s done a lot for this organization and that was hard. But I hope that this was as good as it could get for him.”