New York He came charging home, standing up. Twice. In a nutshell, that's all that truly mattered.
There were plenty of on-no-he-didn't, oh-yes-he-did moments in between, but that's why Alex Rodriguez has the cool nickname. So Yankee fans can gleefully chant it and bitterly curse it, sometimes without pausing to clear their throats.
A-Rod took the Stadium on one wild roller coaster ride Monday, and when it was over, when those gritty Yankees had gutted out a 9-5 Opening Day victory over game-but-green Tampa Bay, he exhaled the loudest. He made fun of his slap-the-head pratfall, played down his booming late-inning homer and made sure to praise his teammates in every other breath. If the Yankees' subsequent 161-plus games are anything like the first, surely the 2007 season won't end as bitterly as the previous three.
"I felt like everyone got off to a good start," A-Rod said.
His just took a little longer to catch fire. It began with a hopeful serenade of "Let's Go A-Rod," then turned ugly barely half an hour later under a crescendo of boos. He was dead to Yankee fans. He was beloved by Yankee fans. They liked him, hated him, loved him. It was like living inside a crazy person's head.
"He had our dugout to come back to," Joe Torre said of A-Rod's constant asylum, a refuge that appears to be homier than years past. Perhaps A-Rod will find strength in its open arms, and spin his option year into a permanent Bronx fixture.
He certainly seemed rejuvenated after an offseason of turmoil and doubt. On an afternoon built upon the energy of Bobby Murcer's wave from the press box and Cory Lidle's widow and young son acing their ceremonial first pitches, it made perfect sense that A-Rod would manufacture the go-ahead run rather unconventionally.
The Yankees had tied it at 5 in the sixth inning, on a two-RBI, bases-loaded single by Derek Jeter that was as predictable as the field was green. Mr. Clutch to the rescue again. But no, that was small potatoes compared to A-Rod's turn at the plate the next inning, after he had begun the day with a strikeout, groundout and a teeth-gritting flyout.
This time, A-Rod's hard grounder buzzed Devil Rays shortstop Ben Zobrist on its way into the outfield for a single. As the shadows stretched across the Stadium, A-Rod, without prompting, stole second, fingers first, and zipped home on his tiptoes following Jason Giambi's single through the right hole.
"It was getting late," A-Rod said. "I was just trying to create, get something started."
And to think he wasn't really trying for what would be his 465th career home run. All he hoped to do in that eighth inning, with the Yankees up by two, was mimic Bobby Abreu's swing, maybe coax a similar RBI single. Instead A-Rod sent Juan Salas' 95-mph fastball screaming over the left-field wall.
Later, when someone asked how the subsequent curtain call felt, A-Rod couldn't tell a lie. "Great," he said, and admitted to sensing the fans' cycling moods.
"It's like the stock market, it changes so much," A-Rod said of the love-hate relationship.