- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Despite the fact that the best player on the Tampa Bay Rays still doesn't think Alex Rodriguez should be allowed to play, the New York Yankees third baseman should have nothing to fear from Rays pitchers during a crucial three-game series, which the Yankees opened against their AL wild-card rivals Friday night at Tropicana Field.
"I'm not supposed to pass judgment or enact laws. It's not my job," Rays manager Joe Maddon told the Tampa Tribune on Thursday. "My job is to run this team. Our pitchers' job is to try and get them out. Don't attempt to be judge and jury. Just let everybody do their jobs."
That approach suits A-Rod just fine.
"I respect the fact that [Maddon] respects the process," Rodriguez told ESPNNewYork.com before Friday's game. "It's great to get back to just baseball."
The Yankees have been concerned that ever since Ryan Dempster was allowed to take four shots at Rodriguez on Sunday night in Boston, finally plunking him on the left elbow after three near misses, it would be open season on A-Rod for the remainder of the year.
Maddon's thoughts were echoed by Evan Longoria, who -- although he reiterated his initial stance on Rodriguez and said that allowing him to play while appealing his 211-game suspension could unfairly affect the AL playoff race -- said he did not believe throwing at the Yankees third baseman was justified.
"If the question arose to me I would never say throw at him intentionally," Longoria told the Tribune. "First of all, I don't want to put a guy on base. I'd rather just try and get him out. I don't think it's the right thing to do. You don't want to get somebody hurt, whether it's him or somebody on our team if they decide to retaliate or it backfires. I think it's better to try and get him out."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, "I respect Joe for saying that," when Maddon's words were relayed to him.
"As I've said all along, everyone is going to have their own opinion on Alex and I'm OK with that, but when you start throwing at a guy when he's basically followed the rules by appealing and all that, I just don't think that's right," Girardi said. "I don't think you ever throw at anyone because maybe you don't like them or you don't like something they're doing, because it's dangerous."
The Yankees have won five consecutive games, and 10 of their past 12, to crawl back into the wild-card race since Dempster hit Rodriguez in the second inning of Sunday night's game. This three-game series with the Rays is pivotal because Tampa Bay sits atop the AL wild-card standings, a half-game ahead of the Yankees, who also trail the Oakland Athletics, Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles.
"They got a good team," Maddon said. "Look at their pitching: Their ERA is better than ours. They just got a lot of tribulations. They've got one going on now."
And Maddon seemed less than eager to inflame the Yankees by provoking another beanball incident with Rodriguez, an event some have pointed at as a possible turning point for their season.
"I thought the other night with that fiasco up there, I thought that could be a galvanizing moment for them," he said. "You never know."
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