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After a Farewell Night Like No Other, Is This Really Goodbye for Alex Rodriguez?

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterAugust 13, 2016

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 12: Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees points to the crowd after coming out of the game in the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on August 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

NEW YORK — With most guys, the retirement announcement comes before the ceremony.

No, not with most guys. With everyone.

Everyone but Alex Rodriguez.

It's always complicated with him, so of course it was complicated on the night that should mark the end of a brilliant if also monumentally flawed career. Of course the skies roared with thunder Friday, just as Yankee Stadium public address announcer Paul Olden said, "Alex, you've spent 12 of your 22 seasons with the Yankees."

"It was certainly, like, biblical," Rodriguez himself said later. "You can't make that up. I guess we went out with a bang."

Great line, and if you'd like, you can take it as a hint. You can take a hint from him saying "it's going to be tough to top that."

Or maybe you can take the biggest hint of all from the last thing he said in his press conference after the New York Yankees' 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays: "I saw [rookie catcher] Gary Sanchez have a [big] series in Boston and I looked at him and said, 'I can't do that anymore.' And I was happy about it. I'm at peace."

Is it possible A-Rod knows he's done as a player, that no matter what he has said over the last few weeks he knows he's not good enough anymore? Or is this going-away game going to look even stranger when it's followed in a few weeks by his comeback game in Miami or Chicago or who knows where?

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Just remember, he still hasn't said he's retired.

He showed in his first at-bat Friday that he can still get it done if all the conditions are right. He lined a run-scoring double to right-center off Rays starter Chris Archer, and it went all the way to the wall. It even came off a 96 mph fastball, with Katie Sharp of RiverAveBlues.com quickly tweeting how unusual that was:

Katie Sharp @ktsharp

That double by A-Rod was his first hit on a pitch 95+ mph since June 7 against Angels.

The fact is Rodriguez struggles with major league fastballs these days. The fact is he can't play in the field, even if he did make an emotional return to third base for one batter in the ninth inning Friday.

Sure, he's only four home runs away from 700, and it's tough to leave so close to an historic milestone. But Al Kaline and Andres Galarraga both retired with exactly 399 home runs, so it wouldn't exactly be unprecedented.

Perhaps A-Rod's refusal to answer the retirement question is simply an acknowledgement he can't be sure another team will want him. Or maybe he just wasn't sure if he wanted this to be the end.

The uncertainty is perfect A-Rod, and so was Friday night.

It went beyond the thunder and lightning during the Yankees' understated pregame ceremony. There was also the oddity that Mariano Rivera was the only one of his ex-teammates who was invited to take part, even though many others will be in town for the Yankees' 1996 reunion Saturday afternoon.

The sellout crowd didn't seem to mind, because it was clear from the start it only cared about Rodriguez. The fans booed manager Joe Girardi's name during the pregame lineup announcement, then cheered at the news that A-Rod was batting third for the first time in more than a month.

The Girardi-Rodriguez relationship has become a big storyline all week, as Rodriguez admitted that he wanted to play all three games in Boston and that the manager told him no (A-Rod pinch-hit Wednesday and started Thursday). Girardi also turned down his request to play third base Friday.

The tension clearly bothered Girardi, and he seemed determined to make Friday the best A-Rod day possible.

"Some people think I wanted to make negative decisions," Girardi said after the game. "That's not the case. I have a huge heart."

With that, the sometimes stoic and often combative manager broke down in tears.

"If this is the last time he plays, I wanted it to be something he'd never forget," Girardi said.

But even that vow wasn't iron-clad. Despite their trade-deadline sell-off, the Yankees remain on the fringe of the American League wild-card race (3.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox for the final playoff spot).

Because of that, Girardi said he would only play Rodriguez in the field Friday night if the Yankees led by three runs or more. Aaron Hicks' seventh-inning home run gave them a three-run lead.

He told Rodriguez of the plan, and said it was A-Rod's wish that it only be for one batter. So after Starlin Castro made the final out of the bottom of the eighth, Rodriguez took the field for the ninth. And after Dellin Betances struck out Mikie Mahtook for the first out, Ronald Torreyes replaced him at third base.

Rodriguez didn't leave the field immediately, first going over to hug his teammates, then stopping in front of the dugout to salute the fans who had serenaded him all night.

It looked, for all the world, like a star saying goodbye for good.

"With all the things I've been through, and to have an ending like that tonight, I don't know what else I can ask for," Rodriguez said later.

Take that as another hint if you wish. Write in his final career numbers, the 3,115 career hits and the 548 doubles and 2,086 RBI, to go with those 696 home runs.

Just write them in pencil, at least for now.

Remember, too, that as the Yankees and Rays waited out a half-hour rain delay before Friday's game could begin, Billy Joel's song "Miami 2017" played over the sound system.

Take that as a hint. Or take it as just one more perfectly odd A-Rod moment on what may or may not have been the last night we'll ever see him play.

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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