NEW YORK -- After Alex Rodriguez had removed his pinstripes for the final time on Friday evening, preparing to embrace a future that may or may not include another at-bat on a big league diamond, the slugger said he was thankful to leave Yankee Stadium with a memory that would be difficult to top.
Playing in front of a packed house, Rodriguez laced a run-scoring double in the first of four at-bats before playing third base for one batter in the ninth inning, ultimately scooping a handful of infield dirt into his back pocket and leaving the diamond as a winner in the Yankees' 6-3 victory over the Rays.
It was the 2,784th game of Rodriguez's career and his 1,509th as a Yankee, and while Rodriguez has been careful not to use the word "retirement" in discussing what comes next, the 41-year-old said that he considered this a happy day for himself and his family.
"With all the things I've been through, and to have an ending like tonight, I don't know what else a man can ask for," Rodriguez said. "So I'm extremely thankful for everything the Steinbrenners and especially what the fans did for me tonight."
A crowd of 46,459 witnessed the end of Rodriguez's eventful Yankees career, concluding a bizarre week in which he and the organization jointly announced that Rodriguez would be released from his contract following Friday's game.
The three-time MVP and 14-time All-Star will exit hitting an even .200 with nine home runs and 31 RBIs this season. In a news conference following the game, manager Joe Girardi shed tears, saying how difficult the last several weeks had been for both him and Rodriguez.
"I think some people think that I wanted to make negative decisions, but that's not the case," Girardi said, his voice cracking. "I have a huge heart, and if this is the last time he plays, I wanted it to be something never forgotten."
Perhaps fittingly, considering the tumult of Rodriguez's career, not everything went according to plan. Loud thundercracks and a torrential downpour interrupted a pregame ceremony involving managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and general partner/vice chairperson Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal, who had to scurry into the dugout for cover.
"It was certainly biblical," Rodriguez said. "Did you hear the thunder crackle? At one point, I said, 'Hal, we've got to take it in,' and he goes, 'Let's go.' You can't make that up. I guess we went out with a bang."
Rodriguez had been presented with a base signed by the 2016 team, as well as a framed No. 13 jersey. Following a tribute video that included messages from Lou Piniella and Edgar Martinez, Reggie Jackson escorted Rodriguez's mother, Lourdes, to the field. Mariano Rivera then emerged with Rodriguez's daughters, Ella and Natasha.
It was a day that started with a slow drive along Broadway through the neighborhoods of Harlem, during which Rodriguez reflected on his 12 seasons commuting to the office and said that he envisioned smacking a double in the gap to drive in a run.
Batting third, Rodriguez was thrilled to see that come to fruition in the bottom of the first inning, answering chants of "Let's Go, A-Rod!" by smashing a 96-mph Chris Archer fastball all the way to the wall in right-center field. Statcast™ measured the ball at 103 mph off Rodriguez's bat.
"It was great," Rodriguez said. "I haven't played a lot of baseball lately, and Chris Archer is not a guy that I'm racing to go and face. I saw him before the game and told him to take it easy on the old man. I gave him a hug, and he smiled. He's a great competitor. I was just glad to drive a ball, especially to right-center, where I've made my living."
Rodriguez grounded out in the fourth, struck out in the fifth and grounded out in the seventh. With his time as a Yankee drawing to a close, one of Rodriguez's requests was to carry his glove onto the field one last time. Aaron Hicks' seventh-inning homer provided Girardi a large enough cushion to grant that request.
Taking the field in the ninth, Rodriguez laughed as his first warmup throw pulled Mark Teixeira off the bag, and as the right-handed-hitting Mikie Mahtook stepped in, Rodriguez not-so-quietly rooted for Dellin Betances to record a strikeout. As Rodriguez revealed, his last time in the field -- May 19, 2015 -- was also his last time strapping on a protective cup.
"I'm very grateful that Joe gave me the opportunity to play third for one out," Rodriguez said. "I was actually excited; I haven't touched my third-base glove in a long time."
Betances obliged with the strikeout, and Rodriguez departed, hugging his teammates and doffing his cap. Despite knowing this would be his final time on the field as an active Yankees player, just four home runs shy of becoming the fourth member of the 700-home run club, Rodriguez said that his overwhelming emotion was one of relief.
"The fact that I don't have to face guys like Chris Archer and Betances, that's definitely a stress reliever," Rodriguez said. "The game is tough. I saw Gary Sanchez have a series in Boston, and I looked at him and said, 'I can't do that anymore.' And I was happy about it. I'm at peace."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.