Commentary

A-Rod steals show from both Joes

Long before decisive homer, Yankees slugger made sure this weekend is about him

Updated: June 26, 2010, 2:22 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

Alex RodriguezStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesAlex Rodriguez's sixth-inning homer put the Yankees ahead for good.

LOS ANGELES -- The moment was supposed to be about the two managers, the one who guided the visiting team to four World Series titles and his successor, the one who is trying to win his second.

The TV cameras were focused on a sight that is usually ignored, the exchange of lineup cards at home plate, and every eye in Dodger Stadium -- Nielsen only knows how many more in living rooms around the country -- was trained on that small circle of ground.

Not only did people see Joe Girardi, Joe Torre and four men in blue, but they also saw the Yankees' third baseman, No. 13 in your program, conspicuously standing not 10 yards away, playing catch with a teammate who was out in right field.

The general rule of thumb is this: Even when you think it's not about Alex Rodriguez, don't you kid yourself. It's about Alex Rodriguez. Somehow, Rodriguez makes sure of that.

The funny thing is, Friday night wound up being about Alex Rodriguez for all the right reasons. His talent as a baseball player was enough to steal him the back page, as we used to say in the days when people still read newspapers.

The titanic home run that he hit in the sixth inning off Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla -- which wound up being the decisive blow in a tightly played, 2-1 Yankees victory before a sold-out crowd in a playoff atmosphere -- ensured that the night would belong to him.

But, A-Rod Being A-Rod, he had already taken steps that not only guaranteed all eyes would be on him Friday night, but throughout the rest of the weekend as well.

He did it by making it clear that he would go out of his way to have no part of his former manager, even as several of his teammates -- including the four most important ones -- were going out of their way to pay tribute to Torre in this first meeting of the two teams since Torre and the Yankees bitterly parted ways after the 2007 season.

"Business as usual," Rodriguez snapped the other day, shooing away any other questions about the manager who batted him eighth in a 2006 playoff game and painted an unflattering portrait of him in a tell-all book that was released a year ago.

While Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte all took their turn on Friday's pregame receiving line to pay their respects to the man they all referred to as a "father figure," and "mentor," A-Rod either made sure he was as far from the scene as possible -- at one point, he ventured into deep center field to play long toss -- or had his back turned to it. For about 10 minutes, he and Torre stood no more than 25 feet apart, only A-Rod spent much of that time in a bent-over posture, his posterior thrust out toward a man whom he clearly despises.

"I didn't see him," Rodriguez said. "I didn't see him. But I'm sure we'll get an opportunity to talk at some point."

But it sure appeared as if the only view Rodriguez wanted Torre to have of him was as he rounded third base after hitting the home run that gave the Yankees a lead they never relinquished.

"It's sad," Torre said before the game. "I didn't think I had a bad relationship with Alex. I certainly hope that I didn't do anything that made him feel uncomfortable with me. That certainly wasn't my intention. If I see him over there at some point during batting practice, I'm certainly gonna go over and shake his hand."

There's a bit of disingenuousness there, too, because surely Torre knows what Rodriguez is upset about. That handshake could have happened if Torre had forced the issue. He certainly saw Rodriguez stretching, chatting with a Yankees television broadcaster and remaining close enough to be seen but far enough away to be avoided.

"I don't look at that as disrespect," Torre said after the game. "I don't know what to say. But I don't want to dump on Alex. He was doing other things. If we had come close enough, I'm certain we would have shook hands."

After the game, A-Rod was predictably magnanimous about Torre, praising him for his knowledge of hitting and giving him credit for teaching him things, some of which he chose not to divulge.

But he also made sure to remind us, "I can't say I have the same relationship with him that he has with Jorgie and Pettitte and Mo and Jeet. I'd be lying to you. So I really don't have anything to say [to Torre]. But if he wants to talk, I'm more than willing to talk to him."

If it seems like a trivial issue on a night that CC Sabathia pitched brilliantly for eight innings and Mariano Rivera dropped the hammer on his old manager the way his old manager used him to drop it on others for 12 years, you're right.

The story should be about them, about Rodriguez's homer, and about how the Yankees have now opened a three-game lead in the AL East over the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. The peripheral issue should have been Torre facing his old team, and getting a taste of the kind of beating he and the Yankees had laid upon so many others for so many years.

And yet, once again Rodriguez found a way, whether he meant to or not, to overshadow it all. And if you don't think he meant to, you are either deep in denial or just haven't been paying real close attention.

"That's just kinda the way it is," Girardi said. "There's always so much attention around Alex. When you're as talented as him, you're gonna be the center of attention a lot."

There are a few other ballplayers with as much talent as Rodriguez on the field, a few of whom are even on his team. And yet, none of them are as talented at grabbing the spotlight even when it is trained on someone else.

"I'm sure we'll get a chance to meet up," he said. "We're gonna be here for three days. There's no rush."

Which means that not only did Alex Rodriguez turn Friday into his night, he's now put a claim in on the rest of the weekend, too.

GAME NOTES: Sabathia (9-3, 3.49) threw a season-high 115 pitches in working eight innings of four-hit, one run ball. He, too, was unmoved by the Torre reunion, but for different reasons. "It's tough for me," he said. "I never played for him. You'll have to talk to the guys who did." ... Padilla kept the Yankees baffled with what has to be the widest differential in pitch speed in the major leagues: a fastball that hit 96 mph and a lollipop curve that moseyed along as slow as 51 mph. "I don't know what you do with that pitch," Rodriguez said. "Very challenging." ... Rodriguez also had a second-inning double to right-center and scored the Yankees' first run on Posada's single. ... Rivera struck out the side in the ninth to earn his 17th save. ... Jeter turned 36 years old sometime around the sixth inning, as the clock tolled midnight in the East. ... Saturday's pitching matchup: The struggling A.J. Burnett (6-6, 4.83), loser of four straight, faces RHP Hiroki Kuroda (6-5, 3.06). First pitch will be 7:10 p.m. ET.

Wallace Matthews is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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