Relishing a chance to needle A-Rod
Alex Rodriguez didn't expect the Boston crowd to forget the fact that he admitted using steroids.
He got the usual boos and name-calling when he stepped to the plate in the first inning last night and popped to first base.
While Rodriguez may end up being the greatest player ever by the time his career ends, right now he is the highest-paid player in baseball, he is a Yankee, and he's one of the main cogs in his team's resurgence - all of which makes him a villain to Sox fans.
He and Mark Teixeira will have to fight over who is more hated here, as Teixeira has twice snubbed the Sox - once when the team drafted him and he attended Georgia Tech, and the other time when the Yankees swooped and signed him to an eight-year, $180 million deal this offseason.
Regardless, they are a pretty impressive 1-2 combination, and they will be even better once Rodriguez fully recovers from his right hip surgery. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he feels A-Rod is getting closer to being 100 percent because he's now trying to steal bases and because "for a normal person he'd just be coming off the end of spring training right now."
The booing Rodriguez received in the first was not over the top, but the crowd loved it when he popped out with Teixeira aboard, and then when he bobbled the glove-to-hand exchange and was late with a throw to second base that would have forced Mark Kotsay in the second inning. Rodriguez was charged with an error, which contributed to a four-run inning against A.J. Burnett.
When Rodriguez came up in the fourth inning, the crowd seemed to be more into bashing him. A few "A-Roid" chants surfaced, as did the "Steroids! Steroids" cries. When Josh Beckett struck him out on a slider away, the crowd roared.
While we wondered what his return after the steroids admission was going to be like, especially in Boston, it hasn't been that bad. A-Rod knows he will always be booed in enemy ballparks, and by age 32, he's heard just about everything. What probably hurts him a tad is when he gets booed at Yankee Stadium, which happened last week. But Yankees fans will boo just about anything. Compare that with the ovations David Ortiz gets at Fenway despite his horrible start, and you can see the difference between the fan bases.
Talk about the steroid admission and the allegation that Rodriguez tipped off opposing hitters in return for the same favor during his years in Texas has gone away, and fairly quickly. Rodriguez probably played it smart when he elected not to address anything contained in the Selena Roberts book.
All the talk in spring training that the Yankees were better off without Rodriguez because of the disruption he causes couldn't have proven further from the truth. Enough proof of that came during New York's early-season woes. Entering last night, the Yankees were 21-8 since his return May 8, the best winning percentage in the majors. Coincidence? Maybe.
Is it also a coincidence that Teixeira has taken off since A-Rod's return?
"There's no doubt or question that Alex Rodriguez makes our lineup better," said Teixeira. "You can see that as clear as day. You can see the dimension he adds, the threat he adds every time he steps to the plate.
"He's a great hitter and the best part is we haven't seen Alex at full health yet and he's still contributing the way he has."
The Yankees know they might not get a 100 percent Rodriguez for the remainder of the year, but they'll take something close to the player who has hit 35 homers and knocked in 100 runs in 12 major league seasons, 11 in a row.
While his surgeon believes Rodriguez's hip can survive the season, other doctors are skeptical. Either way he faces a second surgery next offseason to shave down the hip joint.
Rodriguez re-entered the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry without much of a fight last night.
But one thing is for sure - Boston hasn't forgotten him.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.