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Friday, August 9, 2013
First Pitch: Lightning Rod

By Wallace Matthews



Tonight will be Alex Rodriguez's first game at Yankee Stadium since last Oct. 14, when he was virtually booed out of his own ballpark while in the midst of a postseason performance that can only be described as horrendous.

And since then, things have only gotten worse -- the second hip surgery, his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, the public and ugly feud with the Yankees' front office and, this week, the unprecedented 211-game suspension and his subsequent appeal.

Perhaps worst of all, if not a very fair way to judge, is that his return to the lineup has done nothing to spark his moribund team; with A-Rod back, the Yankees are 0-3, all three losses coming at the hands of the woeful Chicago White Sox, who had lost their previous 10 games.

A-Rod has three singles in 11 at-bats since coming back, but no homers or RBI, and it certainly seemed as if a younger and more mobile third baseman might have made a play on Adam Dunn's hot grounder to third that resulted in a blown save for Mariano Rivera, a tie game and ultimately, a backbreaking 12-inning loss.

Tonight, he and the Yankees are home, bloodied from a 2-6 road trip and both needing a miracle -- the Yankees to salvage a season, A-Rod to salvage a career -- as they open a three-game series against the formidable Detroit Tigers.

It almost seems silly to ask this question, but what type of reception can Alex Rodriguez expect from the Yankee Stadium crowd tonight?

Will the fans pick up where they left off last October and treat A-Rod like the enemy in his own home? Or will they perform that turnaround unique to sports fans of embracing a player simply because he is despised everywhere else?

For their part, neither A-Rod nor his manager are sure.

"I'm looking forward to getting back home, obviously," Rodriguez said after Wednesday's 6-5 loss. "I've been waiting a long time for this day, just to get the privilege to come home on a Friday night against a tough opponent. I'm just really excited."

But asked to predict what kind of reception he expected to get, A-Rod said, "I don't know."

Joe Girardi, too, seemed puzzled by how the fans will welcome A-Rod back to the Bronx.

"I'm curious what it's going to be like Friday night," Girardi said. "I'm not sure. I don't really know what the appropriate response is. I don't think it is my right to tell people how to respond to certain situations. People are going to react the way they are going to react."

QUESTION: What is the appropriate way to react to Alex Rodriguez when he returns to the Bronx tonight? Will you boo him, cheer him or ignore him, and why? Let us know in the comments section or via my Twitter feed, @ESPNNYYankees.

UP NOW: My column on why the Yankees blog.

ON DECK: The Tigers are on the loose, beginning tonight. Three games over the weekend between one of the hottest teams in baseball and one of the coldest. Pitching matchups: Ivan Nova (5-4, 3.08) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (8-6, 4.28) Friday night at 7:05 p.m.; Phil Hughes (4-10, 4.87) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (9-7, 2.58) Saturday at 1:05 p.m.; and Andy Pettitte (7-9, 4.71) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (12-8, 3.74) in Sunday's finale, also at 1:05 p.m.

I'll be in the Yankees' clubhouse when it opens at 3:20 p.m. Friday, and I'll have the lineups and all the pregame news soon afterward, so check in this afternoon. And as always, thanks for making ESPNNewYork.com New York's No. 1 sports website.