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A-Rod Agonistes (cont.)

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By Tom Verducci

"If I can look back," says A-Rod, "and see I made 25 errors, hit .285 and drove in 125, I mean, has God really been that bad to me?"
John Froschauer/AP

In Seattle, Torre looked at Rodriguez squarely and said, "This is all about honesty. And it's not about anybody else but you. You can't pretend everything is O.K. when it's not. You have to face the reality that you're going through a tough time, and then work from there."

It was as close to a tongue-lashing as the low-key Torre ever gets. When the manager comes down on a player, he will mix in the occasional profanity, but his voice remains even and there are no threats. Here his hammer was in the rebuke that Rodriguez's unwillingness to address his slump head-on was letting himself and the team down. Torre told him he needed to show some fight, some anger even, rather than continuing to act as if he were doing just fine.

Rodriguez maintained eye contact while Torre spoke and nodded repeatedly. His only sign of discomfort was that he kept twirling his wedding ring around his finger. When Torre was done, he asked A-Rod if he understood what he had just told him. "Yes, 100 percent," Rodriguez said firmly.

Earlier this month, in recalling the meeting with Torre, Rodriguez said, "Oh, he was real tough. That was the toughest he's been on me."

On the night of the meeting Rodriguez struck out as a pinch hitter to end the game. He whacked the dugout railing with his bat, walked up the runway and into the clubhouse, and picked up a folding chair and threw it.

Two days and seven more embarrassing strikeouts later, it seemed as if the meeting with Torre had never happened. It was late afternoon at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, so late that the concession and maintenance workers were long gone as Rodriguez walked through the empty labyrinth of service tunnels from the clubhouse to a rightfield parking lot. "It's not a big deal," he said. "It's only two games. Back in 1999 I was 5 for 81 [actually 6 for 62] and got an 0-and-2 fastball from Esteban Yan over my head and hit it out, and I was fine. This is nothing like that. It's only two games."

It was classic A-Rod: the instant recall of his numbers, the whistling past the graveyard of a slump that was much deeper than two days. He has already hit into more double plays than ever before, and he most likely will exceed his career highs in strikeouts and errors. Rodriguez also hadn't come to terms with his teammates' sense that he wasn't doing enough to shake things up. Torre and his coaches, for instance, lingered late in the Angel Stadium clubhouse on the previous night trying to decide what to do about Rodriguez. Some wanted him dropped in the lineup. Torre came down on the side of moving him up to second in the order.

Despite taking 45 minutes of batting practice after the game that day, Rodriguez continued to flail away, in the midst of what would be a 2-for-20 stretch with 14 strikeouts. Like a blindfolded kid hacking at a piņata, he missed the baseball 19 of the 36 times he swung the bat.

Said centerfielder Johnny Damon during that West Coast trip, "His swing is so mechanical. He's too good to be swinging like that. Just let it flow. See the ball and react to it. And sometimes you need to do whatever you can, especially with two strikes or with runners on, to get the job done. He's not doing that."