Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Alex Rodriguez bows out with hit, third-base appearance as Yankees beat Rays

NEW YORK — The suddenly dark clouds that gathered overhead, the thunder that boomed and the rain that fell voluminously during the rushed pregame ceremony all seemed ominously — or appropriately — convenient as the Yankees said their forced goodbye to Alex Rodriguez on Friday night. Maybe, as a few folks suggested, it was George Steinbrenner, the iconic Yankees owner who died in 2010, chiming in.

"It was certainly, like, biblical. To hear the thunder crackle,'' Rodriguez said. "You can't make that up. I guess we went out with a bang.''

Rodriguez, 41, wanted to have his own say as well in the 6-3 win over the Rays that was his awkward finale, and he did. He doubled in a run in his first at-bat against Chris Archer, then ground out twice and struck out. Even better, he said, was that he got to return to third base for one out in the ninth — though admitting to being "stressed" playing without a cup — before being removed, hugging each teammate on the way off the field, saluting the crowd one final time as a Yankee to the sellout crowd of 46,459.

"With all that I've been through, and for them to show up on a night like tonight and to show me that type of love, it's something that I'll never forget,'' Rodriguez said. "It was overwhelming.''

Though Rodriguez's farewell was the marquee attraction, the Rays were excited about the debut of Matt Duffy, who went 1-for-4 and looked smooth at shortstop. Archer, meanwhile, allowed five runs over six innings and lost his 16th game.

Though wet, the pregame ceremony was a proper and dignified tribute, albeit somewhat brief and not, as the Yankees tend to do for these things, particularly over the top and excessive.

That understated agenda didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the fans, who packed the stadium to celebrate Rodriguez's 22-year career, with little regard, as this point, for his past PED transgressions.

They cheered his every mention, chanted his name during the first-inning "roll call" that originates in the bleachers, stood and cheered before each of his at-bats, and went into full roar when he trotted out to take third for the ninth, his first time in the field since May 2015.

Rodriguez said his goal coming into the night, knowing he would in the lineup, was to help the team win. And he did just that with the double to right-center in the first inning that scored a run.

"I haven't played a lot of baseball lately, and Chris Archer is not a guy that I'm racing to face,'' Rodriguez said. "I saw him before the game and I told him to take it easy on the old man and gave him a hug, and he smiled. He's a great competitor. I was just glad to drive a ball, especially to right-center, where I made my living.''

Archer said he is never happy to give up any run, but acknowledging he was like several other Rays in growing up watching and even idolizing A-Rod, accepted his place in history as something to remember. Also of note, reliever Ryan Garton would be the last pitcher to face A-Rod, getting him to ground out to end the seventh.

Overall, the Rays were impressed with the atmosphere, manager Kevin Cash saying it reminded him of the old stadium as the fans shared their passion for A-Rod.

"Given his history to see they still support him fully and chanted for him basically every inning and the reception he got, it was pretty cool," Archer said.

It was, by nature, awkward for the Yankees to pay tribute to a player they were dumping and had at times an acrimonious relationship with.

Here is what we did see:

• A video highlight package of A-Rod's career, starting with his debut for the Mariners.

• A "Thank You Alex!" message on the scoreboard as Bob Hope's Thanks for the Memories played over the PA.

• A video tribute from Lou Piniella, his first manager, who said, among other things, "I'm so proud of you."

• A-Rod waving and tipping his cap to the fans, and to the Rays dugout, where players were standing and applauding.

• A-Rod's mom brought onto the field, escorted by Yankees icon Reggie Jackson, Rodriguez's brother and sister by teammates Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro, and his daughters by "good friend" Mariano Rivera, the Yankees stellar closer who will be added to Monument Park on Sunday.

• Yankees ownership presenting A-Rod with two gifts: a base signed by his teammates that general partner Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal handed over, and a framed — though not retired — No. 13 jersey from managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, just as the rain forced all parties off the field.

What we didn't see was any kind of elaborate gift — A car? A boat? An island? — or, other than Rivera, any of the Yankees legends, such as Derek Jeter, who are in town for a previously scheduled 1996 team tribute today. And what we didn't hear were any words of tribute from the bosses or the chance for A-Rod to address the fans. He did earn yet another round of cheers after the game when he went back out to third base to pick up and pocket a handful of infield dirt, and acknowledged the crowd yet again.

Friday's farewell was hastily arranged to provide a tribute before what would otherwise have been an unceremonial release, as the Yankees decided they would rather pay him $27 million not to play for them the rest of this season and next.

Rodriguez was excited to have his family with him, and said again after the game he was "at peace" with the Yankees' decision.

Though refusing to rule out the possibility of playing elsewhere — Miami is often rumored — to get the four homers he needs for 700 rather than move into his special adviser's job, he said after the game, "it's going to be tough to top that. That's a memory that I will own forever.''

Though he wasn't leaving on his own terms, he made it sound like he was okay with going, speaking fondly of his good times and memories:

"Hal has given me an opportunity to stay involved with the organization. With all my screw-ups and how badly I've 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. That's something I'll be able to share with my daughters for a long time."

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