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08/08/09 4:52 PM ET

A-Rod understands Ortiz's plight

Yankees slugger 'liberated' after admitting steroid use

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez didn't watch the events being beamed nationally from the hallway across from the Yankees' clubhouse on Saturday, as David Ortiz stared down a media phalanx and said he had never knowingly used steroids.

In truth, after winning a draining 2-0 game against the Red Sox with a 15th-inning home run, Rodriguez said he was still sleeping when Ortiz made his way to the podium in Yankee Stadium's basement. But Rodriguez still knew just how Big Papi might have felt.

"David's a good friend," Rodriguez said. "I've been there and done that. I've lived it. Whatever he did, I hope he feels better about it. I certainly did once I had my press conference."

It was Feb. 17 when Rodriguez was thrust into a similar situation, taking a seat in a converted picnic tent at the Yankees' Spring Training complex in Tampa, Fla., and holding a 32-minute news conference in front of approximately 150 reporters and media members.

That day, Rodriguez addressed a Sports Illustrated report that stated he was among the 104 players who failed tests in Major League Baseball's 2003 survey program, claiming that he had been "young and stupid" in using a performance-enhancing drug known as "Boli" from 2001-03 with the Rangers.

Months removed now, Rodriguez said Saturday that the news conference and Spring Training as a whole were "embarrassing," and that he had to deal with the "humiliation" of having that cloud over him.

But Rodriguez said that he now feels at peace, and given an opportunity to go back to Tampa and Feb. 17, he wouldn't have changed a thing.

"I'm so proud of the way things came out," Rodriguez said. "I took a lot of things off my chest, and to me, since that press conference, I felt like a new man. I feel like I've been embraced by the city of New York, my teammates, coaches and manager. I feel liberated."

The 34-year-old Rodriguez is batting .261 with 20 home runs 62 RBIs in 78 games since being reinstated from the disabled list on May 8, having left the team in March to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right hip labrum. Rodriguez was stuck in Vail, Colo., rehabbing until mid-April, and for him, he believes the solitude of the snowy mountain air helped put the game into perspective.

"I just think going back to Colorado and this hip injury for me was kind of a blessing in disguise, just thinking about it," Rodriguez said. "It kind of gave me a chance to refocus and take, basically, a timeout from all the white noise I created for myself in the last year. I feel like now I have an opportunity to play baseball and focus on the gift that God gave me."

A-Rod came up big in the 15th inning for New York on Friday, rocketing a line drive into the left-center-field bullpen off Junichi Tazawa. As he approached home plate, Rodriguez instinctively braced his right hip for the impact of a mobbing group of teammates.

"I do have limitations with my hip, but I think I'm getting stronger and better," Rodriguez said. "I think I'm able to play better in key situations, just because I'm at peace with myself and I'm free."

It was the 573rd homer of Rodriguez's Major League career, tying Harmon Killebrew for ninth place on baseball's all-time list, but Rodriguez said he has been able to put those achievements aside.

"What I'm proud of this year is that I get to be a good team member in helping this team win, and focusing on what I do best, which is playing baseball," Rodriguez said. "I think having a shortened season for me really allows me to focus on throwing all the personal stuff out the window."

Part of that has been made easier by the Yankees' big imports of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, all of whom have been successful in their first seasons wearing pinstripes. Rodriguez may still have the biggest contract in the room, but he doesn't have to occupy center stage.

"It's been enormous," Rodriguez said. "I think that's helped me go out and be an integral part of this team and make noise with the big hits that I get helping the team win. Our team this year is playing well -- there's music and apple pies and belts. The energy has changed.

"I'm enjoying the game at a level that I really haven't enjoyed before. I'm 100 percent about my team and winning games. In the past, I was so consumed with trying to do special things that now, I'm just worried about one thing. It's winning."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.