NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez was spotted in the center of the Yankees' raucous celebration after his club gained entry into the American League Championship Series, his T-shirt doused and his eyes blinded by bubbly.
But Rodriguez had been just an observer for the Yankees' 3-1 victory over the Orioles in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, as the Yankees' best-compensated asset was benched by manager Joe Girardi in favor of Eric Chavez at third base.
"It's a tough decision, there's no doubt about it, because of what he's meant to our club," Girardi said before the game. "But I just thought with the struggles that he's had, I'm going to go with Chavy. [Rodriguez] said he's ready to help when he needs to help, and let's win today."
Rodriguez did not speak to reporters after the Yankees' victory and finished batting .125 (2-for-16) in his four ALDS games, including going with nine strikeouts in 12 at-bats against right-handed pitching.
"Obviously, I'm not happy," Rodriguez said as the Yankees took batting practice before Game 5. "I was disappointed. I wanted to be in there in the worst way. But I keep telling you guys, this is not a story about one person, this is about a team. We have some unfinished business today. Our objective is to win one game today and keep this thing moving."
Girardi said that Rodriguez is healthy and that the move to bench his $29 million slugger was completely based upon performance. It is uncertain if Rodriguez will play in Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday, as the Tigers prepare to start right-hander Doug Fister.
Before Friday, Rodriguez had started 70 straight postseason games and all but two in his career, his first two with the Mariners in 1995.
Rodriguez said he was not upset with Girardi, who also made bold moves to pinch-hit for him in the ninth inning of Game 3 -- setting up Raul Ibanez's game-tying and game-winning home runs -- as well as in the 13th inning of Game 4, when Chavez grounded out to end the game.
"It's never about Joe," Rodriguez said. "I always have to look in the mirror and do what I can do to do the best I can. Don't assume you've heard the last from us -- or me."
Girardi said that he opted to make the move despite Rodriguez's good career numbers against Jason Hammel (8-for-22, four homers, nine RBIs). Chavez went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Game 5, but hit .298 over 245 at-bats against right-handed pitching this year.
"Chavy's at-bats have been really good against right-handers this year and I'm going with it," Girardi said before the game.
Had A-Rod consulted with Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who was in the clubhouse and briefly appeared on the field before Game 5, he may have learned that similar events are not unprecedented in franchise lore.
Jackson sat under orders from manager Billy Martin in Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS against the Royals, but delivered a big pinch-hit RBI single in the eighth inning of that game and went on to enjoy a historic World Series against the Dodgers, including an iconic three-homer performance in the deciding Game 6.
Of course, Jackson was 31 then and in the prime of his career; Rodriguez's best performances may be in the rear view mirror. The episode raises the question of what Rodriguez's place with the Yankees is, and will be, for the remainder of the postseason and in years to follow.
After all, Rodriguez owns 647 Major League home runs, is under contract through the 2017 season and has at least $114 million of guaranteed money remaining on a contract he signed with the Yankees after his third MVP season in '07.
"You can't think about that now," Girardi said. "You've got to think about winning a game. This is not June. This is October."
In 2006, Rodriguez was embarrassed in being dropped to eighth in the batting order by Joe Torre for a must-win Game 4 of the ALDS in Detroit, a move that further fractured an already tenuous relationship between the star and his manager.
While Rodriguez was surprised by Girardi's decision to pinch-hit for him in Game 3 -- effectively turning him into a cheerleader for Ibanez's home runs -- he said that night that he felt able to handle the situation much better than he would have 10 years ago.
But Girardi pinch-hit for Rodriguez again in the 13th inning of Game 4, sending Chavez up against Orioles closer Jim Johnson. Girardi said that he would have started Rodriguez if the Orioles had pitched a left-hander in Game 5.
"I'm not going to get into that," Rodriguez said, when asked if he was angered by the moves. "We're ready to go today. I'm part of this team, and I'll be ready to roll. We'll be ready."