Rodriguez did not allow his eyes to wander, but he certainly heard the jeers, a packed house at its loudest this season. It wasn't the way Rodriguez or the Bombers hoped to kick off their crucial, final regular-season series at Yankee Stadium with the Red Sox, dropping a 7-3 decision on Tuesday in the Bronx.
"They were loud," Rodriguez said. "No one is more frustrated than me. Everyone is desperate for wins, and on a night like tonight, I was booing myself."
The defeat came on an evening when Andy Pettitte, traditionally the club's reliable second-half stalwart, could not make it out of the fifth inning, and when Johnny Damon's two solo homers off Boston starter Tim Wakefield went to waste.
The Yankees fell six games behind the Red Sox in the American League Wild Card chase with 31 games to play, dropping the opener of a set that manager Joe Girardi had characterized as a must win, and his club needing to win at least two of three to remain relevant in postseason discussions.
"It's not the end of the world if you don't [let it], but we talk about winning series all the time," Girardi said. "Obviously, tomorrow is a big day for us, just like today was. This club has the ability to put together a long streak. We've done it a couple of times this year and that's what we're going to have to do."
Though Rodriguez was not alone in his struggles, he made for the most inviting target for 55,058 voices, who emptied their most vocal negative reaction in recent memory -- at least, since before the All-Star's 2007 MVP campaign.
With the Yankees trailing by four in the seventh, Rodriguez came up with the bases loaded against right-hander Justin Masterson and chopped a sinker to shortstop Alex Cora for an inning-ending double play; Rodriguez's second twin killing of the game and his ninth in the last 19 games.
Rodriguez finished the evening 0-for-5, striking out swinging to end the contest, and also committed a throwing error during a particularly rough all-around evening.
"They hit balls all over the place down in the corner by third base, and I left men all over the field," Rodriguez said. "We win as a team and we lose as a team. Tonight, you can put it on me, but I'm going to help this team win a lot of games, too."
Said Damon: "He expects to be the greatest player ever, and unfortunately on a day-by-day basis that doesn't really translate at times. It's tough to be the best player on the field every single day, and he expects to be, and unfortunately tonight he wasn't."
The evening had started on a brighter note for New York, as Damon led off by wrapping a solo home run around the right-field foul pole, then deposited another homer to the same section in the fifth for his 11th homer of the season. It was Damon's 25th career multihomer game and first since July 30, 2006.
Along with Jose Molina's slow single up the middle in the second inning, that was all the Yankees would muster against Wakefield, who made it through five innings, allowing eight hits, walking one and striking out one in his first start since Aug. 6.
The offensive totals against the knuckleballing Wakefield would not hold up, even though Pettitte had historically fared quite well against the Red Sox. Facing them for perhaps the final time at "The House That Ruth Built," the left-hander's recent struggles against the Yankees' biggest rival continued.
|"It's not the end of the world if you don't [let it], but we talk about winning series all the time. Obviously, tomorrow is a big day for us, just like today was. This club has the ability to put together a long streak. We've done it a couple of times this year and that's what we're going to have to do."|
|-- Manager Joe Girardi|
Home-plate umpire Jim Reynolds' strike zone was not a great help, as Pettitte squinted in after a few close calls and Girardi made comments while leaving the field after a mound visit. But Pettitte said he could not blame the home-plate umpire for a game that he lost himself.
"It's extremely frustrating. I hate it," Pettitte said. "I didn't get it done tonight. I wish I could say I felt terrible, but I felt pretty decent. I got out of sync in the first inning, walked a couple guys, but after that I felt like I was able to throw my pitches pretty much where I wanted to. I couldn't get anybody out, though."
Serving up six runs in 4 1/3 innings, the final two runs scored against Pettitte as part of a three-run fifth inning. With the bullpen stirring and a run already in on Coco Crisp's RBI single, Jeff Bailey reached base on an infield hit that clipped the third-base bag, snared by Rodriguez and thrown to first base -- too late, however.
First baseman Jason Giambi was among the last to realize it, as Crisp raced home, alertly following Jed Lowrie with Boston's sixth run.
"It's just great baserunning by Coco Crisp, getting a great secondary [lead] and busting his tail end into third base, seeing the ball and just being real aggressive," Girardi said. "It takes speed being able to do that, something Coco has plenty of. You've got to look for that. When the ball kicks away from him, he accelerated and he scored."
That was the last play Pettitte would see from the vantage point of the field, having allowed 10 hits. Pettitte has permitted 15 runs (12 earned) in 15 1/3 innings against the Red Sox this season, and though he was out of auditory range when A-Rod heard it from the fans, Pettitte said he deserved just as much of the share.
"They want us to win and we want to win," Pettitte said. "I feel like you've got a packed house here at Yankee Stadium to start out an exciting season. You feel like you let your team down and you let these fans down. It was just a bad night."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.