BOSTON -- Stopped on the dugout stairs before Wednesday’s batting practice, Alex Rodriguez was told Stephen Wright, the Red Sox knuckleball ace, had been scratched from the Fenway series finale. For a second, he appeared concerned.
“Am I still in there?” Rodriguez asked.
We assured A-Rod that yes, Joe Girardi planned to start him Thursday against Wright’s replacement, the lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez. No need to worry.
But that’s how strained the relationship between A-Rod and Girardi has become during his final week in a Yankees’ uniform. And for what purpose? The easy thing would have been for Girardi to write him in the lineup every day. No sparring with the media, no second-guessing. Just a proper send-off for a 22-year veteran, a three-time MVP, and an integral part of title No. 27.
But Girardi — or someone above his “pay grade,” as the manager likes to say — chose the hard way. Why? It just doesn’t compute that Girardi, a former Yankee himself, would decide to further embarrass Rodriguez by benching him for the first two games against the Red Sox, going back on his word to do so.
Here’s a more plausible scenario: the Yankees’ front office, fearful of an A-Rod rebound at Fenway, instructed Girardi to limit him to Thursday’s finale. And if that’s the thinking, we really can’t blame them for it. What if Rodriguez played in all three, surfed the adrenaline rush to have a huge series and belted a few over the Green Monster? To make things even more complicated for the Yankees, A-Rod then returns to the Bronx, hits No. 700 on Friday, and looks like a dangerous DH once gain.
Not impossible, right? And then what? That would be a PR disaster for the Yankees, on a number of different levels. Not only would they have to explain why a revived A-Rod was being kicked out the door, he’d certainly be scooped up by another team, on the Yankees’ tab.
So maybe to avoid all that, in our estimation, the Yankees came up with the script that Girardi’s been following the past few days. The manager did veer off it slightly Wednesday by using A-Rod to pinch hit for Aaron Hicks with two on, and the Yankees down 4-2 in the seventh inning. But after hearing thunderous boos, starting from the on-deck circle, Rodriguez flied out to rightfield off reliever Matt Barnes. Sort of a buzzkill.
“My job description does not entail a farewell tour,” Girardi said Wednesday. “My job description is to try and win every game and put everyone in the best possible position and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
It wasn’t the first time the manager invoked that “farewell tour” quote, by the way. Girardi introduced the phrase back in 2014, after giving Derek Jeter a mid-April Saturday off against the Red Sox during his final season. Different context, of course, as Girardi refused to apologize for resting his 40-year-old shortstop despite all the disappointed ticket-buyers that day in the Bronx.
But there are a few parallels to this A-Rod saga. Jeter struggled that last season, hitting .256 with a .617 OPS that was the fifth-worst among all qualified players. Yet Girardi still batted him second — his customary spot — in 141 of his 145 games that year. Obviously, we’re not putting A-Rod on the Captain’s level, but just trying to demonstrate how Girardi has balanced the whole “win-first” argument in the past. With Jeter laboring in the No. 2 hole, the Yankees finished six games over .500 (84-78) but four games out of the wild card.
Right now, the Yankees are on the periphery of the playoffs again, but it’s mostly an illusion. Before Wednesday night’s game, they had a 1.6 percent chance of making the postseason, as calculated by FanGraphs. That hasn’t stopped Girardi from regularly starting Mark Teixeira (.196 BA, .620 OPS) as he nears retirement or suffering through another night of Hicks (.192) in rightfield. The manager only chooses to bench A-Rod, and that doesn’t sit too well with Rodriguez.
“I’ll keep all that private,” Rodriguez said. “The last 72 hours, I’m enjoying the game. I’ll cherish any opportunity I get to play. No one owes me anything.”
And his relationship with Girardi?
“I’m just going to keep it about the game,” Rodriguez said.