Updated at: 10/12/2012 1:05 PM
By RONALD BLUM
(AP) NEW YORK - His production shriveled, his aura dissipated, his place in history unsettled and his ego almost certainly bruised, Alex Rodriguez took a seat following the Snub Seen `Round the World and became a spectator, little different than the 50,000 other fans at Yankee Stadium.
At age 37, he has become perhaps the biggest hole in the New York Yankees’ batting order this October, a close-to-automatic out.
The $275 million man lives for moments like the one Wednesday night, when the game and his team’s season were tottering on a high wire between success and setback.
A player who has spent his entire career trying to gain affection was told he was unwanted, at least not then. So he sat in the front row of the dugout, chin resting on his left hand, and watched as Raul Ibanez pinch hit for him and stroked the home run A-Rod wanted to hit, received the adulation Rodriguez craves.
Afterward in the clubhouse, A-Rod said all the right things.
"Maybe 10 years ago I would have reacted in a much different way," he explained.
While Ibanez’s home runs in the ninth and 12th innings gave the Yankees a 3-2 win over Baltimore and a 2-1 AL division series lead, the fallout will linger for the rest of A-Rod’s contract, which pays him $114 million over the next five years.
"He wasn’t angry. I don’t think it will change our relationship," manager Joe Girardi said Thursday. "I saw Al’s expression when Raul hit the home run, and you see the type of team player he is."
Still, it had to sting. And Girardi pinch hit for him again in Game 4, sending Eric Chavez up for what would be the final out in a 2-1, 13-inning loss that forced a decisive fifth game Friday.
"If you’re Alex Rodriguez and you have 650 home runs, I’ve got to believe he believes he could have done the same thing," Girardi said. "I had to make a hard decision, and we’ll get by that."
And it was a choice noticed around the major leagues.
"That’s the toughest decision a manager ever has to face," said Washington’s Davey Johnson, a veteran of New York’s craziness from his time managing the Mets. "There’s times maybe I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t pulled that trigger."
Rodriguez’s career has had more drama than one of those "Real Housewives" shows.
Even before that February 2009 day in Tampa where he sat under the tent and admitted using performance-enhancing drugs _ "I didn’t think they were steroids," he said before adding, "I knew we weren’t taking Tic Tacs" _ his body began to break down.
He played seven full seasons without a major injury before a strained quadriceps in 2008 became the first of a string of ailments that caused five trips to the disabled list in five seasons. There was the hip surgery in 2009, the strained calf in 2010, the knee surgery in 2011 and the broken hand this year.
He hasn’t reached 30 homers or 100 RBIs since 2010, hasn’t hit .300 since 2008. Fifth on the career list with 647 homers, Rodriguez has become a long shot to break Barry Bonds’ record of 762 when just a few years ago it was such a foregone conclusion that bonuses were written into his contract.
And since his remarkable postseason helped New York win the 2009 World Series, he’s reverted to October bust by going 10 for 66 (.152) with no homers and six RBIs in postseason play, including 1 for 16 with nine strikeouts this year. Rodriguez hasn’t homered in 84 at-bats since Sept. 14 and has been overwhelmed by good fastballs, his hands slow, his timing off. Greeted with light applause for his first at-bat Wednesday night, he was booed loudly by the late innings and even more intently Thursday when he struck out in the eighth inning with runners at second and third.
Some may not think that’s worth the $40.7 million he is costing the Yankees this year: $29 million in salary plus $11,687,500 in luxury tax. The money makes the scrutiny only more intense.
So does his social circle. He has dated celebrity girlfriends such as Madonna, Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz.
Even knowing the Yankees loathe blemishes on their pristine pinstripes, he couldn’t stop himself from making repeated splashes in the New York tabloids by associating with a stripper in Toronto, stopping by a swingers’ club in Dallas and gambling at illegal poker hangouts.
For all of A-Rod’s talk about his desire to just fit in, he’ll almost certainly never be loved by Yankees fan the way they adore Derek Jeter.
"Derek has four world championships and I want him to have 10. That’s what this is all about," Rodriguez said when he arrived in 2004.
Since then, the Yankees have won only once. And as A-Rod acknowledged on his first day with the team, World Series rings is the only number that counts.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)