- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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In his first game back at Yankee Stadium since his nightmarish ALCS last October, Alex Rodriguez went 0-for-4 with a "walk."
The 0-for-4 came during the game, won by the Yankees, 4-3, in the 10th inning.
The "walk" came afterward, when A-Rod chose not to share his feelings on being back home with a playoff-sized media contingent, slipping out the back door of the Yankees' clubhouse into the night, leaving a team publicist to break the news that the man of the hour had left the building.
He left his performance behind to speak for itself.
You couldn't really blame him, since nothing about Yankee Stadium must have felt like home to A-Rod on Friday night, starting with the delivery of a letter from his employers shortly before the game informing him that his talk-radio dalliance with Dr. Michael Gross, who became the second doctor not employed by the Yankees to clear him for play, would cost him some money.
Things did not get better when his name was announced to the crowd in the pregame introductions, usually a time of unbridled fan happiness. On this day, the cheers were interrupted with a wave of resounding boos at the mere mention of Rodriguez's name.
He got the same treatment when he stepped to the plate for the first time, with a runner on second and two out in the first, and it only got worse when he struck out, flailing badly at a Rick Porcello sinker, to end the inning.
By the time he finished his night, going down looking at a slider from Bruce Rondon in the eighth for his third strikeout of the night, there wasn't a player on either side of the field as unpopular as Rodriguez -- not even Miguel Cabrera, who had the gall to delay the victory party an inning by belting a Mariano Rivera cutter over the center-field wall to tie the game when the Yankees were one strike away from victory.
Maybe that is why, as his teammates rallied around Brett Gardner on the field after his single won the game in the bottom of the 10th, Rodriguez was nowhere to be found in the celebration.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is going to be a long four and half years.
"Obviously it can [be tough] for anyone, but Alex has had to deal with stuff before. He's been booed before," Joe Girardi said after the game. "He knows what he has to do and I expect him to do it. It's something he has to be able to put out of his mind and be a player for us."
That will not be easy, considering the vociferousness of the negative reaction in his own ballpark, and the fact that Yankees upper management clearly no longer treats him as if he is part of the family.
This is largely his own fault. Rodriguez was warned against skirting team protocol in June when he foolishly tweeted that his hip surgeon had "cleared him for baseball activities," when his team had done nothing of the kind.
But he did it again when he sought a second opinion from Gross without giving prior notice to the team, as stipulated in baseball's collective bargaining agreement, and a third time when he set Gross loose before a live radio microphone and a handful of telephone interviews with reporters.
So, just like Bud Selig, it looks as if the Yankees have had it up to here with A-Rod and the baggage he brings, without a shred of the kind of production that would, if not justify it, at least allow the club to look the other way.
Is there more than a hint of hypocrisy in this? Of course. But star players have operated under different sets of rules probably as far back as the Roman Empire.
The problem is, Rodriguez is no longer a star player. He just gets paid like one. And with every dollar that flows from the Yankees' coffers to his pockets, the club's resentment grows.
That resentment has been transferred to the fans, who booed him Friday night as if they were personally writing out his paychecks.
In truth, they started out booing allegations; although Rodriguez has been suspended for 211 games by Major League Baseball, by baseball's own admission he has not failed a drug test and, as is his right, he is continuing to play while the judgment is being appealed. But they ended up booing ineptitude.
Rodriguez did not take one good swing all night, and in addition to his three strikeouts, he flied out weakly to shallow right.
And then, when it came time for what is usually his favorite part of the night, when he gets to stand in the middle of a media throng and play hero, or team leader, or self-critic -- Rodriguez chose to disappear, either too angry to address his relations with the team, or too embarrassed to assess his own performance.
If there was any slight bit of hope that he might ever be even a semi-productive player for the Yankees again, this night snuffed it out like a cigarette butt in an ashtray.
"I still don't understand the people wearing a Yankees shirt booing against one of their own guys," Gardner said, perhaps not realizing that to everyone but a few of his teammates, Rodriguez is no longer one of the guys. If he ever really was.
And now, his skills fading rapidly and facing a long, and potentially career-ending suspension, he has never seemed more alone.
The fans can't stand him. The GM can't stand him. Even the manager, who professes to love everyone, reserves a particularly tough brand of love for A-Rod. The support system the Yankees have in place for their players no longer seems available to him. The team and A-Rod are now like a divorcing couple who communicate only though their lawyers.
"Listen, I don't want to speak for him, but I think he's been through so much the last several years I'm not sure what he's affected by, to be honest," Gardner said. "He's got pretty thick skin and he's able to block out a lot of outside noise and really focus on the task at hand. He works harder than anybody and I think it's going to be a big boost the last two months."
The last two months? How about the next four years?
The contractual association goes on, but the marriage between Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees is over, and neither side needs a registered letter to prove it.
Friday, A-Rod left early, leaving his performance behind to speak for itself.