Commentary

A-Rod embraces the hate in Boston

MLB may ultimately bring down Alex Rodriguez, but boobirds in the stands will not

Updated: August 17, 2013, 9:53 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- It was a situation that would have left most people mortified, if not terrified: being surrounded by a crowd of strangers, their pens poised like knives and their cameras trained on you like a firing squad, forced to confront the charge not just of being a steroid cheat but, worse, a rat.

And beyond the wall of media, a sellout crowd of hostile fans waiting to rip you apart verbally, only because they couldn't do it physically.

But Alex Rodriguez was anything but mortified as he sat in the New York Yankees' dugout before Friday night's game against the Boston Red Sox, facing questions on whether he had given up a teammate, Francisco Cervelli, in a bid to save his own hide.

Alex Rodriguez
Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsAlex Rodriguez has a knack for ignoring the negativity around him.

In fact, he looked energized.

"We're all going to have to get ready for a bumpy road," he said. "It's going to get bigger every day. I would expect bigger and bigger stories to come out every day. We're going to have to deal with it."

Rodriguez was not frowning when he said this. In fact, he was smiling, as if in some way he were actually looking forward to it.

Then, he went out and collected two hits and a walk in five plate appearances, hit the ball hard every time up, and, for good measure, plucked the David Ortiz line drive out of the air that started the double play that let all the air out of Fenway Park in the eighth inning.

And he did it all to a Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack of boos that began at the pregame introductions and swelled to a crescendo by the time he came to bat for the last time in the ninth inning of the Yankees' 10-3 victory.

In fact, this game was over so early -- the Yankees were up 7-0 after four innings -- that it appeared many in the crowd stuck around merely for the pleasure of flogging America's punching bag for the next couple of hours.

Maybe it is motivation for him, or maybe he simply enjoys being the center of attention, even when it's negative attention. It just seems as though the more he is despised, the more he thrives.

"The reaction is pretty tame, usually," he said, shrugging off a question on how he's able to shut out the negative and replace it with the positive.

But really, the answer is simple.

Embrace the hate. Although he will never admit it, that's what Rodriguez seems to do best, even better than he once was able to hit a baseball.

"The crowd was awesome," he had said the previous Friday, when he got the same kind of treatment from his home crowd upon returning to Yankee Stadium for the first time since being suspended 211 games by Major League Baseball, which considers him a PED cheat.

And certainly, he is no stranger to performing in the face of hostility in Boston, the most notable example coming in June 2007, when Fenway was his first stop after being photographed leaving a strip club with a woman who was not Mrs. Rodriguez -- he was still married at the time -- while the Yankees were playing the Blue Jays in Toronto.

That weekend, the Red Sox fans added some innovation to their vituperation -- hundreds came to the park wearing paper Cinderella masks, meant to evoke the image of the woman dubbed the Mystery Blonde by a city tabloid.

A-Rod came, saw, laughed and conquered, going 3-for-10 with a home run, three walks and four runs scored in the series as the Yankees took two of the three games.

On this Friday night, having held his 4½-minute pregame confessional with the media before the game, A-Rod preferred to stick to baseball afterward.

"We're in playoff baseball right now," he said, adopting his most statesmanlike air. "Every game means the world to us. We're trying to stay very focused and collective in here; stay very united no matter what's thrown at us. Our focus is to win games, and that's the only thing we care about right now."

He would rather, he said, talk about Alfonso Soriano, who had another almost surrealistic performance at the plate.

"It's unbelievable, like he's playing slow-pitch softball," he said.

And to talk about Mark Reynolds -- his neighbor in the visitors clubhouse now that Derek Jeter is in Florida rehabbing his strained calf -- who began his Yankees career with a home run in his first at-bat.

"Mark's a great pickup for us," he said. "He's a guy that we all know what he did against us last year. He absolutely crushed us single-handedly. There's a lot of things that he brings to this clubhouse that we welcome and need, and a nice way to get started too."

And yet, he knows Saturday will bring more of the same, especially since the Red Sox starter will be John Lackey, who on Thursday told the Boston media he believes it's not right that A-Rod is allowed to continue playing, probably through the end of the season, while his suspension is being appealed.

"I've got a problem with it. You bet I do," Lackey was quoted by The Boston Globe. "How is he still playing? He obviously did something and he's playing. I'm not sure that's right. ... It's pretty evident he's been doing stuff for a lot of years I've been facing him."

Asked to share his thoughts on why he has become hated, it seems, in equal measure by fans and players, A-Rod said, "I have no idea. I wish I had that answer, but I can tell you that I love the game. I love to be able to be on the field tonight. We're in the middle of a pennant race; for us, this is our playoffs. Our playoffs start tonight. Very pivotal series for us against a very good team that we have a lot of respect for."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who acknowledged that Rodriguez seems better at shutting out the hate than most players, offered his own theory about why it works for him: "I think a lot of times the field is the safest place for him, in a sense."

Even in his diminished capacity as a player, it certainly seems to be one place where A-Rod can have a modicum of control over the outcome.

As he said, each day is bound to bring something new to this increasingly complex and often sordid tale. And some days, even he will be surprised by what is dug up.

At no point did he try to profess that every new story will be false, or even that the ones we already know about are not true. All he gives us is a cryptic, "When I have the right platform at the right time and the time is appropriate -- which is not now -- I will tell my full story."

Maybe he will. Chances are he won't. Right now, it's hard to believe he even has a side to his story. Maybe he's just stalling for time, trying to squeeze two more months, and another $9 million or so, out of a career that is hopelessly damaged.

But one thing you can bet on: MLB and its drug testers might ultimately bring down A-Rod, but the boobirds in the stands will not.

Asked before the game how it felt to be a national punching bag, Alex Rodriguez said, "It gets old."

In a day filled with unconvincing statements, that was probably the least believable of all.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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