During his last night in pinstripes, Alex Rodriguez again found himself at the mercy of a higher power. And no, we don’t mean Hal Steinbrenner.
As a sold-out Yankee Stadium waited for A-Rod’s pregame ceremony to start, the tarp already covered the infield. Then dark clouds began rolling in, almost as if they were timed to arrive with Rodriguez himself. Once he walked to home plate, public-address announcer Paul Olden commenced with the script. “Alex, you’ve spent 12 of your 22 seasons with the Yankees . . . ”
Right on cue, a deafening thunderclap interrupted Olden’s introduction. Moments later, the steady rain came, sending the fans scurrying up the rows for shelter. By the time Steinbrenner appeared bearing gifts, it had escalated to a soaking downpour that pushed A-Rod, his family and VIP guest Mariano Rivera down the dugout steps for cover.
“It was like Biblical,” a smiling Rodriguez said afterward. “You could hear the thunder crackle. You can’t make that up. I guess we went out with a bang.”
You also didn’t have to search very hard for the symbolism here. In a matter of minutes, the ceremony was over, halted prematurely, just like A-Rod’s 22-year major-league career.
Steinbrenner was the one responsible for negotiating his unconditional release, effective immediately after Friday night’s game against the Rays.
As for washing out the ceremony? We’ll let you decide that. During this last week, from Sunday’s stunning news conference to the head-scratching bell lap through Fenway Park, A-Rod seemingly has been at the mercy of some giant karmic boomerang. Apparently, in some people’s minds, he still hasn’t paid the tab for his past sins.
We’ll give him this, however. He tried to the very end. And if this does indeed turn out to be his last game, then A-Rod did better than most people probably felt he deserved.
After the soggy intro, he was summoned from the dugout during the bleachers’ opening roll call. In his first trip to the plate, he lined an RBI double into the right-centerfield gap. And for the ninth inning, he actually got to play third for one glorious out, a strikeout by Dellin Betances.
“It’s going to be tough to top that,” said Rodriguez, who refused to say whether he’s truly finished. “That’s a memory that I’m going to own forever.”
After the Yankees beat the Rays, 6-3, Rodriguez — game ball in hand — trotted back out to third and scooped up a handful of dirt, putting it in his back pocket. He also thanked Joe Girardi, who was very emotional himself, for giving him the chance to man the position one more time, especially after the friction between them in Boston.
“I have a huge heart,” said Girardi, his eyes tearing up. “And if this is the last time he plays, I wanted it to be something he never forgot.”
Girardi did Rodriguez the favor of batting him third in the lineup, so that was an early olive branch. After suggesting for two days in Boston that Rodriguez wasn’t capable of helping the Yankees win, Girardi put him in the critical 3-4 spots for his final two games. Not exactly a consistent line of reasoning, but what else would you expect from the twisted relationship between Rod riguez and the Yankees?
“I have the utmost respect for Joe,” Rodriguez said afterward. “This week was incredibly awkward and tough. I was disappointed. But in the long run, Joe and I are going to be just fine.”
A-Rod is done with the Yankees, but any teams interested in him for beyond Friday night surely took note when he lashed Chris Archer’s 96-mph fastball for his first extra-base hit since a July 18 homer. Maybe Rodriguez, at age 41, is only a shell of his former three-MVP self, but the emotion this night was real. When he got to second base, A-Rod screamed and smacked his hands together.
“Alex has done great things here,” Girardi said. “Just like all of those [Core Four] guys. The difference is those guys were raised here.”
He knows it’s way more than that. We all do. Even A-Rod. But the send-off was as good as this was going to get for Rodriguez. And that felt like enough.
“It’s the only job I’ve had for 22 years,” he said. “For all the things I’ve been through and to have a night like tonight, I don’t know what more I can ask for.”