CHICAGO (AP) — Alex Rodriguez stepped up to the plate greeted by a standing boo-vation and blooped a single in his first at-bat of the season.
Hours after Major League Baseball suspended the New York Yankees star through the 2014 season in the Biogenesis drug case, Chicago White Sox fans got their say Monday night.
And, boy, did they let him hear it.
They jeered him during pregame warmups and introductions, and they really tore into him when he walked to the batter’s box leading off the second inning.
On the third pitch, Rodriguez dunked a hit into shallow left field. He made it to third base with no outs, but was stranded.
Rodriguez flied out in his next two at-bats and then took a called third strike in the eighth inning while fans chanted “Steroids! Steroids!” He also handled a few grounders at third base as Chicago snapped a 10-game losing streak with an 8-1 win over the struggling Yankees.
At 38 and coming back from hip surgery, Rodriguez said he’s fighting for his career.
He did not deny using performance-enhancing drugs in a news conference at U.S. Cellular Field after the punishment came down, and he said he will talk about whether he used PEDs at another time when he is more free to speak.
He did, however, dig in for a battle, saying no one else will defend him unless he stands up for himself. Then, he took to the field, batting fourth against the White Sox.
“There’s nothing about it that’s been easy,” Rodriguez said. “All of it has been challenging. I’m sure there’s been mistakes made along the way. We’re here now. I’m a human being. I’ve had two hip surgeries. I’ve had two knee surgeries. I’m fighting for my life. I have to defend myself. If I don’t defend myself, no one else will. There’s a process. I’m happy with the process. In due time, hopefully whatever happens, happens.”
The Yankees are hoping something good happens with him on the field. They’re out of playoff position and desperate for power, especially their third basemen — the players they’ve had playing that spot this season had a combined 32 RBIs, fewest in the majors according to STATS, and were hitting .215 with four homers.
Rodriguez, with 647 career home runs, arrived at the ballpark in a dark gray Cadillac around 3:10 p.m. CT and waved when a fan shouted “A-Rod!” on his way into the stadium.
In the clubhouse, his locker was jammed with the usual clothing and equipment, and there was a scouting report on his chair.
It all looked so ordinary, yet there was nothing ordinary about this day.
The three-time MVP was one of 13 players disciplined on Monday, one of the biggest mass suspensions in the history of the game.
All-Stars Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera were banned 50 games each. Rodriguez, however, got 211 games, due to start Thursday.
He will appeal his suspension, and that means he will likely be able to play the rest of this season while his case winds through arbitration.
Prior to his first game since last Oct. 18, Rodriguez signed autographs and drew a crowd — of both fans and photographers.
Rodriguez said “a lot” went into his decision to appeal his case but added “I’m not going to get into any of that today.”
“What we’ve always fought for was for the process, and I think we have that and at some point we’ll sit in front of an arbiter and give our case,” he said. “And that’s as much as I feel comfortable telling you right now.”
Asked if he denies using PEDs, Rodriguez said, “Like I said, we’ll have a forum to discuss all of that and we’ll talk about it then.”
If he hasn’t used PEDs since then, why not say it?
“There’s a lot of things that have been thrown to the wall, and I think when the time is right, there will be an opportunity to do all of that,” he said. “I don’t think that time is right now. And I don’t want to interfere or get in the way of anything that — with the process.”
On Friday, Rodriguez hinted that the Yankees did not want him back and were trying to avoid paying him the $94.5 million they still owe him through 2017.
Union executive director Michael Weiner said those comments were probably out of frustration and that Rodriguez would probably agree they were “counterproductive.”
Weiner also said he and Rodriguez have talked since then — but not about those comments.
“But I would guess that all things considered, and having thought about it a little bit, he’s probably not very happy with those comments,” Weiner added.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, brushed off a question about his comment on Friday, saying “Today is another day, and I’m focused on what my job is and my responsibilities to the New York Yankees and to the fan base of New York.”
He thanked the fans, media, people from the Dominican Republic and Hispanics “all over the world” for the support.
Whether he has the Yankees’ support is another issue.
“If I’m productive, I think they want me back,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez batted .120 (3 for 25) with no RBIs last postseason, including 0 for 18 with 12 strikeouts against right-handers.
“It’s been a long time for me, and the last time I was on the field it wasn’t pretty,” he said. “I was horrific.”