ARLINGTON, Texas -- By now, we all should know that it always comes down to A-Rod, and when it came time for the final out of the American League Championship Series to be made, who better to make it than the man who broke the bank here 10 years ago and never delivered on his promise, which was to lead the Texas Rangers to a World Series.
And yet, in a way, he did. It was fitting in so many ways poetic and ironic that Alex Rodriguez came to the plate in the ninth inning Friday night with the Rangers leading the New York Yankees 6-1 and just one out from their first trip to the Series.
"It's unbelievable the way things just come around and, of all people, I'm the last guy up there," Rodriguez said. "The funny thing is I had the utmost confidence I was gonna get on base. I had no doubt I was gonna get on base. I was actually pretty excited about that at-bat."
That was, until Rangers closer Neftali Feliz started him off with a fastball clocked at 100 mph for ball one. Then he slowed down to 99 for a second quick strike. Then, the final pitch of the Yankees' season, what A-Rod described as "that dragon of a curveball," that arced across the plate at a knee-buckling 83 mph and left Rodriguez locked up like an inmate.
"I think both me and [on-deck hitter] Lance Berkman, we both flinched," Rodriguez said. "I'm sure that made it a little sweeter for them."
A-Rod, of course, was booed vociferously every time he came to the plate this series, but unlike most places, these fans had a reason. Just three years after signing the 10-year, $252 million contract that made him the highest-paid player in the history of sports and, some would say, changed baseball's entire salary structure, Rodriguez decided he wanted out of Texas. He waived his no-trade clause to try to go to the Boston Red Sox, finally landing with the Yankees.
Now, he got to watch from the loser's side of the field as his former team celebrated without him.
"You give those guys credit," Rodriguez said of Rangers president Nolan Ryan and manager Ron Washington. "I am happy for guys like Michael Young and Colby Lewis, guys I played with when they were just kids. They outplayed us and they deserve it."
And no doubt, they were just as happy that A-Rod could be a part of it, too, even if it was not in the way he had ever intended.