BOSTON -- And so it has come down to this: tonight at Yankee Stadium against the Rays is the last game of Alex Rodriguez's baseball career.
The 41-year-old designated hitter made that pretty clear before the Yankees' 4-2 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Thursday night after seeing that manager Joe Girardi had not only kept his promise to pencil him into the lineup, but batted him in the cleanup spot against left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez.
"I'm focusing in on [these games] as this is it, I mean, like, this is it," A-Rod told a group of reporters in front of his locker in the cramped visitors' clubhouse. "I'm not looking beyond that. I value the pinstripes. I value this organization. To me, this is it."
Rodriguez was 0-for-4 in the game and was vociferously jeered by the sellout crowd of 38,161 every time he came to the plate. He said he conjured images of battles against numerous Red Sox past each time he stepped into the left side batter's box.
But the booing was just the way it should have been, A-Rod added.
"They're passionate fans. They love their team," Rodriguez said, standing in front of the same locker afterward decked in a dark suit. "Just like in the '80s, Celtics-Lakers was good for basketball. Red Sox-Yankees has been good for baseball, and tonight was a good thing."
Despite going hitless, Rodriguez drove in the game's fourth run with a bases-loaded bouncer in front of the plate during a three-run eighth against sidearming reliever Brad Ziegler. The RBI was A-Rod's first since he hit his last homer against the Orioles in the second inning at the Stadium on July 18, but it wasn't what he had in mind.
"It was fun. It was a lot of fun to be out there," Rodriguez said. "It was a kind of funny hit in the end. Not how I pictured it when I woke up this morning."
Tonight, the Yanks will have a pregame ceremony honoring Rodriguez, beginning at 6:50 p.m. ET. First pitch has been pushed back to 7:35 p.m.
When it's all over, Rodriguez will have played in 2,784 games during the course of 22 seasons, and that's with missing 118 games in 2013, recovering from hip surgery and the entire '14 season because of a drug-related suspension.
"I'm sure I'll wake up in the morning and it will be very emotional," he said. "My family, my girls get in at mid-day. [Friday] is about me thanking the fans for putting up with me for such a long time. They've been with me through thick and thin."
A-Rod said goodbye to Fenway, where he broke into the Majors at the tender age of 18 while with the Mariners, and finished his last road game on Thursday night with 696 homers, 3,114 hits, 2,085 RBIs and 2,021 runs scored, the only other player in Major League history aside from Hank Aaron to amass more than 600 homers, 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBIs and 2,000 runs scored.
Rodriguez's slash line of .295/.380/.550 is nothing to be ashamed of. Aaron finished his 23-year career in 1976 with a comparable line of .305/.374/.555. Aaron also hit 755 homers, second on the all-time list to the 762 smacked by Barry Bonds.
It's been a week racked with emotions for both A-Rod and Girardi, who has had to balance his job winning games and catering to a player who will be unconditionally released on Saturday.
"I don't really want it to end this way," Girardi said. "This is not the way I envisioned this. I envisioned him hitting 30 home runs and being in the middle of our order every day. Obviously, the distraction will be gone when this is over, but this is not the way I envisioned this taking place."
What happens beyond that is anyone's guess. A-Rod will be paid the $27 million remaining on his contract through the end of the 2017 season and has agreed to act as an advisor and instructor for the Yankees next year.
A-Rod will formally become a free agent and can sign with any of the other 29 Major League teams for the remainder of the season at a pro-rated portion of the minimum, approximately $75,000.
To be certain, A-Rod believes he can still play. There has been some talk that his hometown Marlins have given consideration to adding him to the roster for their playoff push, but he said on Thursday that he hasn't given that possibility any thought.
"At this point, I've been so focused on this week," Rodriguez said. "I have plenty of emotion. I don't have any time or energy to focus on anything else. I'm just really looking forward to my last seven or eight at-bats."
The fact is, A-Rod is batting .199 with nine homers and 30 RBIs, and he is 1-for-24 with eight strikeouts since hitting that last homer on July 18. That reality check certainly has a lot to do with it.
"I mean, anything past Friday we can talk about next week," Rodriguez added. "That'll be a new set of questions, but right now, it's really about tonight and tomorrow."
A-Rod said that he approached Girardi about the possibility of starting at third base on Friday, the position he began to play in 2004 after the trade that brought him to the Yanks from the Rangers.
"Tuesday I came into [Girardi's] office and he told me what the plan was," Rodriguez said. "And I said, 'Any chance I can play third base on Friday?' He just said, 'No.'
"It would've been fun. It wasn't a big request. I get that we're still [trying to win] games. I totally get the answer."
A-Rod has started only 29 times at third base since 2012 -- 27 times during an injury-truncated '13 season, twice last year after returning from the suspension and not at all this season.
Rodriguez hasn't taken many ground balls during batting practice at third base, and that was a major factor in Girardi's decision.
"I mean, we thought about it, but he hasn't done any work," Girardi said. "And we're still in the business of trying to win games here. It's not like I wouldn't like to see it, but we're still in that part of the season where we're trying to win this."
Rodriguez sat out the first two games of this series save for a pinch-hit at-bat on Wednesday night. He was so happy to get into the starting lineup on Thursday that he decided to share that joy with a young fan seated by the Yankees' dugout.