'Third base is where I lived,' slugger says in farewell to Yankees
By Nick Suss
NEW YORK -- For a man who has played more than 10,000 innings at third base in his career, Alex Rodriguez was still enthusiastic to man the hot corner one more time.
In Friday night's 6-3 Yankees win over the Rays, a game that was billed as Rodriguez's last with the Yankees and potentially as a Major Leaguer, Rodriguez started and played the first eight innings as a designated hitter, the only role he had served all season. But with the Yankees holding a three-run lead and closer Dellin Betances in to finish the game, manager Joe Girardi trotted out to talk to home-plate umpire D.J. Reyburn with his lineup card in hand.
"I'm very grateful that Joe gave me the opportunity to play third for one out," Rodriguez said. "I was actually excited. I haven't touched my third base glove in a long time. It was great. It was fun to throw across the diamond to [first baseman Mark Teixeira]. We have some great memories. I'll cherish that forever."
Rodriguez's time at third base was short-lived. After Betances struck out leadoff hitter Mikie Mahtook looking, out of the Yankees' dugout emerged Ronald Torreyes. Rodriguez trotted back toward the dugout for the last time, surveying the field and taking in the crowd's raucous ovation for him. Before he retreated, Rodriguez hugged his teammates, who were waiting for him by the dugout steps.
According to Girardi, the decision to pull Rodriguez after one batter wasn't his. Girardi planned to let Rodriguez play the field for two outs, but Rodriguez wanted otherwise.
"Someone said to me that he wanted to be pinch-run for his last at-bat if he got on," Girardi said, "and I said, 'I'm not going to do that. If the score stays 6-3, I'm going to put him at third base.'
"I went to him and told him that, and he said, 'One hitter only, please.' I was going to leave him out there for the second hitter, but he [shrugged it off]. He was excited, and it just worked out."
Girardi went on to explain just how much it meant to him as a manager and friend to give Rodriguez one last chance to field his position. Neither Girardi nor Rodriguez hid how tough the last month has been on their relationship, and Girardi said that he wanted to partially make up for that by giving Rodriguez a perfect sendoff.
That may have meant playing Rodriguez at third base for an entire game, maybe an entire series. But the Yankees, who enter Saturday six games behind the American League East lead and 3 1/2 games out of the AL Wild Card race, feel they're in a chase for a postseason berth. They couldn't afford to give him any more than one out in the field.
For Rodriguez, that was almost enough. The only other thing he seemed to want was a memento, which he snagged in the form of a plastic bag filled with some dirt he scraped up from beside third base.
"Third base is where I lived," Rodriguez said. "I came in 2004 as a shortstop and made the switch to third base. I went on the back fields with Graig Nettles and Larry Bowa, and it was a tough adjustment. But then I felt comfortable. And to be able to win a world championship as a third baseman, I just wanted a little memory."
The night wasn't just about memories forged, but also about memories recalled. In fact, Rodriguez concocted the idea to retrieve some dirt because he saw Roger Clemens do it.
As for what Rodriguez said to Girardi after the game had ended, the former third baseman simply thanked his now-former manager for letting him play third base. And if that's what Rodriguez wanted, that's what Girardi wanted to give him.
"If this is the last time he plays," Girardi said while choking back tears, "I want it to be something he never forgets."
Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.