NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez's 2015 season ended the way it began, in a hail of boos from the Yankee Stadium crowd.
In between, there were plenty of cheers for a player who came to spring training without a job, without the support of the New York Yankees front office, and without, it seemed, many friends in the stands.
He overcame that with performance and demeanor, and as always, more than his share of moments in the spotlight, probably the best of which came on July 25, when he hit three home runs in Minneapolis against the Twins. That was his high point, and it almost coincided with that of his team, which reached its high-water mark three days later -- seven games ahead of the pack in the AL East -- only to start an inexorable two-month slide to the ill-fated date with the Houston Astros in a 3-0 loss Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
Rodriguez, however, still had one big moment left in him.
The Yankees season came down, as all things seem to, to an Rodriguez at-bat. It was the sixth inning of Tuesday night's wild-card play-in game and the Yankees trailed 2-0. They had two runners on, which against Astros ace Dallas Keuchel constitutes a major rally. They also had two outs, which with Keuchel on the mound amounts to a major handicap.
There was little doubt that Keuchel, a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young Award, was on the ropes, and even less doubt that at that point in the game, an entire season was on the line. The sellout crowd of 50,113 -- a mob that for once actually sounded like Yankee Stadium in October -- felt the electricity of the moment, and in the Yankees dugout, Joe Girardi felt the same way.
"I thought that was going to be the moment for us right there,'' Girardi said. "I thought that was going to turn it around.''
The crowd was on its feet, as is customary in such situations, and Keuchel was up in the zone, which is not only highly unusual for him but often fatal to a left-handed pitcher facing Rodriguez.
Only this was not the Rodriguez of 2007, or even the Rodriguez of, say, Aug. 1, 2015. This was a 40-year-old player coming off 19 months of idleness, who had played 151 regular-season games, more than he had since 2007, and his moment in the spotlight lasted all of one pitch. Even though it was the pitch he thought he wanted, a waist-high cutter, Rodriguez could do nothing more than loop it harmlessly to centerfield, where Carlos Gomez was waiting to tuck it -- and the Yankees' hope of pushing their season further into October -- into his glove for the final out.
"I got a pretty good pitch to hit, put a decent swing on it and hit it right to Gomez,'' Rodriguez said. "I’m just looking for a pitch right in that box, and it was in that box and I stayed inside of it, but ... and right at 'em.''
It was a lament Rodriguez voiced for much of his final two months of the season, over which he hit .191 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. "I think I'm getting my pitch to hit and not hitting it,'' Rodriguez said in the last week of the season. "It can mean you’re a little late, or you're not picking up the ball as well. But it really doesn’t matter. At this point of the season, you’re really just looking for moments.''
On this night, Rodriguez had had his moment, and it slipped past him. By the time he came to bat again, with one out in the ninth inning and the game now pretty much out of reach at 3-0, he went down swinging at a slider from Astros closer Luke Gregerson. That was when he heard the boos, heading back to the dugout, although by that point of the game, it was difficult to know if the crowd was venting its disgust at individual players or the collective failure.
"Honestly, I didn’t hear any boos,'' he said. "That was the last thing on my mind. I was just trying to get on base, via walk, base hit, slap the ball to right field. Anything.''
This was not the way he or the Yankees had intended the season to end, but then again, the way Alex Rodriguez played for most of this season was not what anyone could have expected, either. He finished at .250, with 33 home runs and 86 RBIs. He led the team in home runs, on-base percentage (.356) and led all active Yankees in OPS (.842). You could make the case that with Mark Teixeira sidelined for the better part of two months with a leg fracture, Rodriguez leapfrogged him as the Yankees MVP for 2015.
"I mean, it’s hard to kind of reflect on the year right now, but it’s been an incredibly fun year overall,'' he said. "I played a lot of games and that’s probably the biggest surprise of the whole year. Just had a lot of fun playing with the guys and just feel grateful for the opportunity to come back and re-establish myself as a major league baseball player.''
"Alex was a case, I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest,'' said GM Brian Cashman. "We hoped for the best and tried to prepare for the worst, and we got a great season out of him.''
The question regarding Rodriguez now is the same one posed by Brooklyn Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen after watching Willie Mays make an unbelievable catch and throw on Carl Furillo in 1951. "I'd like to see him do it again,'' Dressen had said.
Is it possible for Rodriguez, who is still owed more than $40 million on the two years left on his contract, to come close to his 2015 performance in 2016, and maybe even 2017?
"Who knows?,'' he said. "I’m going to go home, get some rest, spend time with my daughters, kinda think about what happened this year. I think this DH thing has been a good thing for me.''
He will turn 41 next July, and the Yankees have a live left-handed bat in Greg Bird, who might be able to take over half those DH duties in 2016. With Teixeira expected to make a full recovery, there will be no room for Bird at first base.
Those are questions to be raised next spring. For now, Alex Rodriguez' 2015 season is in the books, and even though it was bookended by boos, on balance it was a very good one.
Of course, even in defeat, he left us with a moment to remember, the only real moment his team had all night long.