There was one game
against Boston in Yankee Stadium in June when Rodriguez looked so anguished by
the rough treatment from New York fans that Red Sox designated hitter David
Ortiz, while watching him from the on-deck circle, grew concerned. Ortiz caught
Rodriguez's attention and gave him an exaggerated exhale, the way you might
when a physician asks you to take a deep breath. Rodriguez would later thank
Ortiz. "It was painful to see his face," Ortiz said. "I had to tell
him to just breathe and relax."
Asked when his
season turned sour, Rodriguez replied, "I was absolutely on fire in Detroit
early in the year. Then I got sick and I didn't play for three or four days.
And then the whole month was kind of lost. It took a while to get my strength
back. I'm not explaining that June, the month I stunk, was because I got sick.
Let's make that clear. You ask, 'What's the turning point, going from Player of
the Month in May to June?' That's the only thing in the middle."
He did admit that
the media and fan criticism caused him stress that crept into his game. "I
think it bothered me, early in the year," he said. The jeering of Rodriguez
fed on itself, with Yankees fans emboldened by the obvious physical signs from
A-Rod that he was unnerved. Posada could go 0 for 25 in August and go
uncriticized, but Rodriguez would be excoriated for popping up in the first
headlines from the summer:
A-ROD GETS A
DO YOU HATE THIS
"It actually reached the point of being so ridiculous that I just had to
laugh. It's like if you show up at work one day with a red shirt, and I go,
'Man, that's an ugly shirt.' And the next day you wear a blue shirt, and I go,
'Man, that's an ugly shirt.' And the next day, yellow shirt, same thing. And on
and on, every day. At some point you understand it's not really about the
shirts. And it becomes easy to dismiss the criticism."
Why must Rodriguez
defend himself? He plays hard, is durable, stays out of trouble off the field,
has hit more than 460 home runs and might wind up reaching 800, which would
place him on the short list of the greatest players in history. He is a career
.305 hitter (and has batted nearly the same with runners in scoring position,
by the way) with 10 All-Star selections, eight Silver Sluggers, four home run
titles, two MVP Awards, two Gold Gloves and one batting title.