NEW YORK – His pregame tribute ended by a storm, Alex Rodriguez soaked in repeated cheers during his final game in pinstripes, getting one more hit for the New York Yankees and returning to third base one last time.
On a night filled with nostalgia as the Yankees and Rodriguez turn to uncertain futures, baseball’s most notorious star of the last two decades drove a 96 mph fastball from Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer into the right-centre field gap in the first inning of New York’s 6-3 win Friday.
And with the sellout crowd of 46,459 chanting “We want A-Rod!” the 41-year-old designated hitter trotted to third base for the first time in 15 months at the start of the ninth inning as the organist played “Thanks for Memory.”
He was replaced after a leadoff strikeout, hugging his teammates as fans, many of whom never warmed to a player who served a year-long drug suspension, applauded in respect if not devotion.
Rodriguez raised his cap and then his arm before walking into the dugout, sitting down and holding a white towel to his face as he tried to hold back tears.
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A-Rod ran back on the field for more hugs after the final out, grabbing a handful of dirt from the infield.
“This is a night I’ll never forget,” he said, moments after the last out.
Rodriguez had clapped as he came out of the batter’s box and pumped both arms in triumph as he reached second base without a throw in the first against Chris Archer.
Rodriguez said he saw Archer before the game and kidded him, telling the Rays right-hander, “Take it easy on the old man.”
After ending an 0-for-11 slide, Rodriguez grounded out, struck out and bounced out again on the first pitch in his last at-bat. The 1-for-4 night left him with a .200 average, nine homers and 31 RBIs in his 12th and final Yankees season.
Dark clouds rolled in from the northwest as his Yankee Stadium ceremony began. Rodriguez’s family was on the field and public address announcer Paul Olden said: “Alex, you spent 12 of your 22 seasons with the Yankees” when a loud thunder crack shook the ballpark, as if ordered by a film director.
Rain started to fall during a video message from Lou Piniella, Rodriguez’s first big league manager, and the festivities ended awkwardly after 10 minutes when a downpour began.
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Ten minutes later, the clouds started to clear, somewhat symbolic of A-Rod’s time in New York, and a rainbow came out shortly before the first pitch.
With the Bleacher Creatures chanting his name in during their roll call and the rest of the fans joining in, Rodriguez raised his cap toward them from the dugout.
Fans gave him a 30-second ovation when he walked up to the plate in the bottom half and stood and took photos and videos during his at-bats.
When the game ended, Rodriguez saluted the fans over and over.
Starlin Castro had four RBIs for the Yankees, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the sixth off Archer (6-16) that gave CC Sabathia (7-9) his second win since mid-June.
Rodriguez had slept late, ate his egg whites, stretched and took one final trip to the ballpark as a New York player.
“The last time I drive up Broadway and through Harlem and through the neighbourhoods that have brought so much comfort to me.”
Rodriguez received an ovation for about 30 seconds. Reggie Jackson accompanied his mom onto the field, and his daughters were escorted by former closer Mariano Rivera, who drew louder cheers than A-Rod.
Yankees co-owner Jenny Steinbrenner Swindal presented a base signed by the team and controlling owner Hal Steinbrenner gave a framed No. 13 jersey when the downpour caused the group to hustle off the field.
After sitting on the bench unused for much of the past month, Rodriguez was in the lineup as the DH and batting third for his 2,784th and perhaps final regular-season game as a major league player in a career that started with Seattle in 1994, moved on to Texas in 2001 and then New York three years later.
The Yankees distributed accolades from Core Four teammates Derek Jeter, Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada, plus Robinson Cano and former manager Joe Torre. But the festivities seemed as much an exile as a celebration.
Admitting to plenty of errors in a life that has included a drug suspension, the 2009 World Series title, a divorce, celebrity girlfriends, high-stakes poker games and what seemed to be as many photos on tabloid fronts as backs, he leaves without establishing his own era.
Rodriguez was a supporting actor in the Jeter-Rivera epoch, and when the stars left the cast he could not carry the show.
Rodriguez has 696 home runs, fourth on the career list behind Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714).
But the Yankees decided last month to trade veterans and turn toward youth.
Steinbrenner told him on Aug. 3 the end was at hand, and Rodriguez said last Sunday he had accepted an offer to play one final home game and then become a team adviser through 2017, tasked with mentoring young players.
“I can’t think of anyone else where this has kind of happened, where you’ve announced on a Sunday that a guy was going to be released on Friday,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Rodriguez’s locker still had two photographs of himself with daughters Natasha and Ella and three more of the siblings together. There were six pair of baseball shoes, three black gloves and two caps, one for batting practice and the other for the game.
But that stall was hours from being vacated.
He entered in a 4-for-47 funk and started for just the third time in 19 games since July 22, his skills clearly having diminished.
A-Rod admitted his relationship with Girardi had been “awkward and difficult” of late. The manager turned down Rodriguez’s request to start his finale at third base.
Rodriguez said late in the game, Girardi mentioned that he might play him at third.
Despit everything, Rodriguez said he didn’t feel the Yankees were giving him the brush off.
“With all my screw-ups and how badly I acted, the fact that I’m walking out the door, Hal wants me as part of the family, that’s hitting 800 home runs for me,” Rodriguez said.
New York will owe him $7,103,825 for the rest of this year and $20 million for next, the final season of his $275 million, 10-year contract.
Having seen his lights go down on Broadway, is Miami 2017 in his future?
He has not said he is retiring.
“I’m going to need a long nap and recover and I want to see where life takes me,” he said, “but right now I think I value wearing this uniform, and for me the Yankees pinstripes is enough.”
A 14-time All-Star and three-time AL MVP, A-Rod has a .295 batting average, 3,115 hits and his 2,086 RBIs, second to Aaron’s 2,297 since RBIs became an official statistic.
With no more batting practice to take, he planned to watch the Yankees on television Sunday. But not Saturday.
“I may have a couple cocktails tonight, so I may not wake up by game time tomorrow,” he said.