Game 115: TB vs. NYY — Alex says “farewell”… for now

On a Friday evening at the stadium, you can expect to find a band playing in the concourse, people milling about after work in everything from suits to full-on Yankees gear, that constant hum and chatter from the thousands in anticipation of a new series and the weekend in the city. Of course, it wasn’t an ordinary game, and the crowd was littered with #13 jerseys. The air was hot and sticky, as the sky above darkened as if Nature itself knew that it was going to be one of those days.

Of the 46,459 people packed into the stadium, just 5 (and those closely related to them, hanging out in the special suite to watch the whole event) mattered the most to the one man everyone was there to see. Before the game, the tarp on the field, the smell of rain in the air, the announcer called for one of the last times: “Alex Rodriguez!” Rodriguez came jogging onto the field in front of the infield tarp to the roar of the crowd, pointing to specific people and sections (including a special nod to the “A-Rod! A-Rod!” cheering Bleacher Creatures) for his pre-game ceremony.

The Yankees escorted out Rodriguez’s mother (Reggie Jackson did the honors), his sister and brother (by Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro), and his daughters (escorted by surprise guest Mariano Rivera). A few special messages, like from his first pro manager with the Mariners Lou Pinella (who is now part of the Yankee organization too). The Steinbrenners also presented Rodriguez with an encased 3rd base signed by the whole team and a framed #13 jersey to commemorate his final game and season in pinstripes.

Just as he was being presented these gifts, the nearby lightning and thunder turned into a bit of rain. Which turned into quite a bit of rain. The Florida residents (the Rodriguez and Steinbrenner families) meandered their way off the field, while the poor New Yorkers were jogging up the steps heading for cover. (We Floridians don’t flinch much when it comes to inclement weather, as it usually has to be like “ark level” weather for us to really care.)

So for 30 minutes, the Yankees and their fans waited for what would be a rather interesting final game for #13. See, in the scope that would be tonight and will be the events of this weekend, the Yankees are still in a bit of a Wild Card race, just 3.5 games out of the Wild Card. And tonight, they start their weekend series against the Rays.

And CC Sabathia got the start tonight, and despite a bit of a disappointing 1st inning, he certainly pulled it together for the most part for the rest of the game. He threw 100 pitches over his 6 innings, gave up 4 hits, 3 walks, and 3 runs, and a nice 7 strikeouts. A lead-off 4-pitch walk was quickly erased with a snazzy double play, but then a solo home run (by the Rays’ leading run-producer) got the Rays on the board first.

But it wasn’t like the Yankees were going to let them get away with it for long. In the bottom of the 1st, Gardner took an errant pitch of his foot/ankle and kind of hobbled his way down to 1st. He stayed in the game (with what will probably be a nasty bruise for the next few days), which is a good thing because when Alex Rodriguez stepped into the batter’s box (amid a standing ovation of fans), his 1-out double to shallow right field easily scored Gardner to tie up the game.

In the 3rd, the Rays worked a 1-out walk and a 2-out single to put runners on the corners. Another single scored the lead runner before Sabathia got a strikeout to end the inning (a fairly common theme for both starters tonight actually). The Yankees answered back in the bottom of the 4th, after Rodriguez’s 2nd at-bat turned into a little ground out, Teixeira got on base with a single and moved to 3rd on Gregorius’ nice 2-out double. Starlin Castro’s big single then scored both Teixeira and Gregorius to put the Yankees in the lead.

But in the 5th, a Rays’ lead-off double moved to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt and then scored on a sacrifice fly to tie up the game again. (Rodriguez’s 3rd at-bat in the bottom of the 5th was a simple 3-pitch strike out.) In the bottom of the 6th, the Yankees finally dented into the Rays’ starter. Teixeira led-off with a single and a stolen base (his 2nd of the year), and 2 outs later, Castro’s 2-run home run gave the Yankees a lead they’d never surrender tonight.

With both starters out of the game, the Yankees secured their lead and continued the excitement of the night, while the Rays seem to do what they do most of the year as they kind of gave into the inevitable. For the Yankees, relievers Clippard and Warren breezed through the Rays’ line up in the 7th and 8th innings, keeping the Yankees firmly in the lead.

Aaron Hicks led-off the 7th inning with a great solo home run to the left field seats to give the Yankees that total security they were looking for in the game. Three batters later, Rodriguez’s final at-bat ended in another little ground out, but fans (perhaps knowing it was the last) almost refused to stop cheering him on. A brief conversation with Girardi and Rodriguez was headed to the clubhouse with a big smile on his face.

In the 9th, Chase Headley stood at the top of the steps that lead to the clubhouse from the dugout, waiting. Alex Rodriguez jogged his way up those steps, nodding and smiling at the regular 3rd baseman. In his hand, a black fielder’s glove. Yes, Alex Rodriguez was going to play 3rd base for the final time. And the crowd exploded in cheers and support. For a few moments, the only person on the field was Rodriguez with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen, eyes shining, and a glimpse of that kid who just wanted to play ball nearly skipping his way to the hot corner.

Dellin Betances took the mound for this final inning and got his first strikeout. And suddenly, Rodriguez made his way back across the field, hugging his way off as Ronald Torreyes came out to replace him. Apparently, Rodriguez specially agreed to Girardi’s allowance but only for 1 batter; Girardi was willing to have him out there longer, but I think Rodriguez knew he was out of practice and didn’t want to screw anything up for the team. Because that’s the kind of player he is.

A strike out (and overturned challenge) later, the count 1-2, the entire stadium on their feet, the batter sort of half-swung at the final pitch and was ruled out, and Betances gets the save.

Final score: 6-3 Yankees.

Alex Rodriguez was allowed one more chance to be on the field to greet his teammates in that “good game” winning line they always do, getting the game ball from Betances himself. But then he kind of hung out on the field for a bit, asking silently for a moment to himself. He wandered over to where he used to plant himself on the infield, defending 3rd base, crouched down, and gathered a handful of dirt, shoving it into his back pocket for safe keeping. Before he was finally ready to face the media. Between interviews, he signaled for his daughters to join him on the field, and they were handed on over the barrier and ran across the field to their dad to envelop him with the biggest hugs.

{Media links: articles covering the final game on MLB.com — by reporters Hoch, BloomSuss, Kaneko, and Needelman; statements from former teammates, Rodriguez’s pre-game press conference, Rodriguez’s interview with FOX, Headley on being “replaced”, Girardi’s post-game press conference, and Rodriguez’s post-game press conference.}

And there were some roster moves: the Yankees placed Nathan Eovaldi on the 15-day DL (retroactive to August 11) with his right elbow tendon injury. This is not good news in the long run, but it doesn’t seem to be a tear or something to be surgically repaired but rather a rest-and-see kind of thing. They also recalled Luis Severino from AAA Scranton.

And as promised, following tonight’s game, the Yankees officially released Alex Rodriguez as a player. He adamantly reminded interviewers from the field to the post-game press conference that he is still part of the organization. And he is. They will continue his contract as a special adviser and instructor, especially in relation to all the young prospects in the organization. Rodriguez may not be playing in a Yankee uniform any more, but he’s still very much part of the team.

After all, once a Yankee, always a Yankee.

Go Yankees!

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