Detroit fans embrace Pudge in return
Hearty ovation thanks catcher for nearly five years with Tigers
DETROIT -- For most of the New York Yankees, Monday's makeup game against the Tigers was an unwelcome side trip on the way to St. Petersburg for a key series against the Rays that starts on Tuesday. For Ivan Rodriguez, it was one day back at his old home.
As much as Rodriguez tried to treat it as another game, there's still part of him that can't separate himself from Detroit -- certainly the real estate market, which in this case provided the benefits of a good night's sleep.
"I still have the house," Rodriguez said. "I stayed there last night."
Judging by the ovation Rodriguez received upon his introduction, he still has some fans, too. When Rodriguez stepped to the plate to lead off the second inning against Justin Verlander, the pitcher whose no-hitter the veteran backstop caught last year, the crowd at Comerica Park gave Pudge a lengthy standing ovation. It was enough to prompt the catcher to tip his batting helmet in appreciation.
"It was special, it was nice," Rodriguez said after the game. "I appreciate that very, very, very much from the fans. I got some goosebumps. I remember in Texas they did the same thing. It was great. It means that all the four years that I was here, I did a great job, I did a great job for the organization, for the fans. It was a very nice moment."
His former teammates concurred.
"That was nice," Verlander said. "I gave him a little head-nod, but at that point, I'm not worried about the aura of what's going on with him. Obviously, he did a lot for this organization. Not only do I appreciate it, the organization and the fans appreciate it. And they showed it, which was special."
When all-day rains postponed this game, originally scheduled for Mother's Day, there was no hint of how much of a back story the makeup game would have. That changed on July 30, when the Tigers traded Rodriguez to New York for reliever Kyle Farnsworth.
Much like he did for most of July, when the pending free agent faced questions about his future, Rodriguez said he was not surprised.
"That's baseball," Rodriguez shrugged. "You have to prepare for things like that are going to happen somewhere. I was waiting for that, because Brandon [Inge] still had [two more] years of contract and they tried to find a place for him to play. That's the way it is. Baseball is like that."
With that trade, however, it was instantly going to be a day of mixed emotions for Pudge, no matter how much he tried to downplay it. He had been in the visitors' dugout at Comerica Park before, back when he was a member of the Texas Rangers, but this time was different.
The fact that it was one game, not an entire series, arguably made it easier for Rodriguez. Since he was traded in the middle of a road trip, it was one chance for him to say good-bye to his home fans, no matter how much he tried to focus on the game.
"When you play for 4 1/2 years with them, it's always something like that in there," Rodriguez said. "But again, it's a game that we have to go out and win. Now I'm a New York Yankee, and I'm going to compete against the Tigers."
How much the competition will mean in the American League playoff chase is debatable. The deal was essentially a chance both teams took at trying to address their needs -- the Yankees seeking a starting catcher to fill in for injured veteran Jorge Posada, and the Tigers desperately needing relief help.
Rodriguez entered Monday hitting .203 (12-for-59) in 20 games -- 16 starts -- since putting on pinstripes. The Yankees, meanwhile, entered Monday seven games back in the American League Wild Card race.
Farnsworth entered Monday having given up 17 hits over 11 1/3 innings, with a 4.76 ERA in 11 outings as a Tiger, though he had pitched four scoreless innings and recorded four strikeouts in his past four outings.
"I always grew up winning," Rodriguez said. "I play the game hard. I play the game to win. And of course, [the losing] bothers me a little bit, because I know we're good. We're capable of doing good. But that's baseball. What we have to do is keep playing hard and see what happens."
What will happen beyond this year is anyone's guess. Rodriguez isn't thinking that far ahead.
"Not yet," Rodriguez said. "I'm just looking for today's game. Play hard, finish this month strong, win games for the team. After that, I don't know yet."
The one thing Rodriguez knows is that he believes he is still an everyday catcher.
"Absolutely," he said. "I know myself, and I know my shape. I'm healthy, I'm good, I'm feeling great. And of course I can play every day."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.