Farewell A-Rod, hello Yankees' new era
NEW YORK -- The day after seemingly his last Major League game, Alex Rodriguez's nameplate was still above his locker in the Yankees' clubhouse, although the team had given him his unconditional release as promised before Saturday's 8-4 victory over the Rays.
Manager Joe Girardi was sufficiently recovered from Friday night's emotional postgame news conference when he was in tears following the stress of the week's events. There was the 20th anniversary celebration of the 1996 World Series team, including the return of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams.
As manager, Girardi presided over the final games of the Core Four -- Jeter only two years ago -- but never did he show the emotion he did on Friday night.
"Yeah, it probably was because of the abruptness of it, in a sense," Girardi said on Saturday. "Like I said yesterday, No. 1, when the other guys left you had more time to prepare for it. No. 2, I didn't come to the park the next day and not see them. The season ends.
"And there was the strain of the entire week. I'm going to miss this guy. I'm going to miss him."
And finally, the Yanks called up Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, who became the first teammates in Major League history to homer in their initial big league at-bats during the same game. They did so in back-to-back fashion with two outs in the second inning.
Just a typical Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
"It goes with the territory," said Joe Torre, the manager of that 1996 team and every Yankees team through 2007, all of them making the postseason, four of them winning the World Series.
It was one of the most chaotic two-week periods in recent Yankees history, prompted by the club floundering around the .500 mark since July 1. Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltrán were traded. Mark Teixeira announced his retirement effective at the end of the season. And A-Rod, who finished in a 2-for-28 slump after hitting his final home run on July 18, was limited to a bench role before his final game.
Gary Sánchez was brought up from the Minors and replaced Rodriguez as designated hitter. He and Austin Romine have virtually split the catching duties, meaning that veteran backstop Brian McCann could be the next to go. McCann has reportedly cleared waivers and could be traded before playoff rosters are set and Major League rosters expand from 25 to 40 men on Sept. 1.
Teixeira, batting .201 with 10 homers and 28 RBIs, will experience reduced playing time to give Austin a good shot at first base for the remainder of the season. Austin was 2-for-4 in Saturday's game with a homer and a stolen base. Likewise, Judge was 2-for-4.
The Yanks are in full transition now and have remained competitive, with both the American League East title or a Wild Card spot still within reach.
"Every organization goes through this kind of rebuilding," Posada said. "I don't think it's going to take that long here because people want to win. And this team is made to win, so we'll see."
One of the toughest facets of the managerial position is having to tell an aging star that he no longer can play, Tony La Russa once said, specifically talking about the deterioration of his relationship in St. Louis with Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith.
Girardi went through that with Posada in 2011, when the longtime catcher was replaced behind the plate by Russell Martin and batted .235 as the DH. The manager went through it this year with A-Rod, who was first diminished to hitting only against left-handed pitchers and then benched entirely, prompting managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner to negotiate his exit strategy, announced this past Sunday.
Tensions grew between Girardi and Rodriguez, with the manager saying the entire situation had created a "very tough month" and a lot of strain.
"I was quite angry about the strain," Girardi said. "I was very angry about it because I didn't feel like it needed to happen. But I understand how it happens."
During the past week, that strain was exacerbated when Girardi had to renege on a public declaration to play A-Rod every day of a three-game series against the Red Sox in Boston.
"This week was incredibly awkward," Rodriguez said after he went 1-for-4 with a run-scoring double in his final game on Friday night. "It was tough and I was very disappointed, like I said before the [first] game [in Boston]. But we are a family and families sometimes disagree. There's a lot of trust there. So in the long term, Joe and I are just going to be fine."
So are the Yankees.