The evening began with a violent thunderstorm that descended on the Bronx just as a ceremony commemorating A-Rod's years in pinstripes was about to begin. The storm forced the participants, who included Reggie Jackson, Mariano Rivera and Hal Steinbrenner, to scramble for cover from the lightning and torrential rains barely five minutes after the festivities had begun.
Friday night's 6-3 Yankees victory ended with the most unlikely sight: Rodriguez heading out for the ninth inning with a fielder's glove on his left hand, sent out to play one final inning at third base, a position he had not started at in a game since April 27, 2015.
"I've given these fans a lot of headaches over the years and I've disappointed a lot of people," Rodriguez said, his voice sounding hoarse over the public-address system in one of baseball's most unusual farewells. "But like I've always said, you don't have to be defined by your mistakes. How you come back matters, too, and that's what New York's all about."
The sellout crowd of 46,459 was predictably wild for A-Rod all night, and they were never louder than when chanting his name for its traditional roll call in the first inning, an honor usually reserved for position players, not designated hitters.
But the crowd also rose to its feet for all four of his at-bats, erupting wildly when he stroked a 2-2 fastball from Rays starter Chris Archer into the right-center gap in his first at-bat for an RBI double that tied the game at 1. He clapped his hands and shouted into the muggy Bronx air in celebration as he reached second base. It was Rodriguez's first extra-base hit since a home run against the Baltimore Orioles on July 18 at Yankee Stadium.
Rodriguez's ensuing at-bats were increasingly anticlimactic -- a groundout in the fourth, a swinging strikeout in the fifth and a final groundout to shortstop on the first pitch he saw from reliever Ryan Garton in the eighth.
As A-Rod headed back to the dugout, the crowd began a chant of "We want A-Rod!'' The chant grew in intensity as the Yankees batted in the bottom of the eighth. YES Network television cameras caught Rodriguez having a dugout conversation with manager Joe Girardi before dashing into the clubhouse, presumably to grab a glove.
Rodriguez had criticized Girardi for benching him for most of the past month.
"If this is the last time he plays," Girardi said softly, pausing for 10 seconds and sniffling as his voice cracked and his eyes teared, "I wanted it to be something he never forgot."
When Rodriguez sprinted out to third base at the start of the ninth inning, the crowd erupted once again. On a night of drama, this might have been the most dramatic moment of all. On the big video screen in center field, Rodriguez could be seen breathing heavily as if even he were exhilarated, and perhaps unnerved, by the moment.
The moment, however, lasted just one batter. After Dellin Betances struck out Mikie Mahtook, Girardi sent Ronald Torreyes out to replace Rodriguez, allowing the 41-year-old superstar to bask in one more ovation as the crowd chanted "Thank you, A-Rod!''
Rodriguez accepted hugs from all his teammates, waved his cap to the crowd and entered the dugout, where Girardi was waiting for him on the top step. And then he was gone -- 12 seasons, 351 home runs and 1,096 RBIs after it all began -- as the crowd chanted his name. Many of them then headed for the exits before Betances could nail down the final out of the game. They had seen what they came to see. The rest was just bookkeeping.
"With all that I've been through, and for them to show up on a night like tonight and show me that type of love is something that I'll never forget. It was overwhelming," Rodriguez said during a news conference, looking perfectly put together in a gray suit and silver necktie.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.