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Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP
New York Yankees' Robinson Cano, right, is greeted at the plate by teammate Alex Rodriguez after Cano's two-run home run against the Oakland Athletics during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, May 31, 2011. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Instead of saying, ‘Hey, I made some mistakes,’ they lie about things, do all kinds of things because they refuse to lose. —Sports psychologist Keith Henschen

SALT LAKE CITY — It should be the bottom of the ninth for Alex Rodriguez — not that he would understand. Major League Baseball has suspended him 211 games for violating its drug policy, though that’s on appeal. His chances of making the Hall of Fame are zilch.

In the public’s eye — and Yankee management’s — he’s as popular as gout.

But for him, performance enhancing drug accusations are just one more challenge, like solving Justin Verlander’s fastball.

Brush him back and he’ll crowd the plate even more.

His lawyers are insisting he’s being falsely portrayed. Welcome to the club, the one in which Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, etc. are members. All claimed they were wronged when linked to PEDs. A-Rod has admitted to using them, just not in recently years. That’s a tough sell, like saying you no longer eat sprinkle donuts, despite the crumbs on your shirt.

Rodriguez says he’ll tell the inside story, but only at the right time. When would that be, after he has pocketed the $86 million the Yankees owe him?

So instead of being in the ninth, he’s in, oh, bottom of the seventh. There will be the arbitration ruling, but that might not come for months. Until then, and probably beyond, there will be back-and-forth between MLB, the players association and the attorneys. Already there have been numerous diversions, such as Rodriguez’s claim the Yankees mishandled his hip injury and an alleged ex-mistress who says general manager Brian Cashman knew of steroid use.

Even the Yankees, who live on drama, are distancing themselves from their star. Cashman said he didn’t feel comfortable talking to Rodriguez because “it’s a litigious environment.”

The Bronx Zoo never seemed zooier.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez is in Phase II of his denial tour. Phase I was when he told Katie Couric in 2007 that he had never taken PEDs, then admitted in 2009 that he had.

Distractions aside, A-Rod played well the other day after getting nailed by a pitch from Boston’s Ryan Dempster; he later hit a home run. Great athletes often respond when the booing gets loudest.

Talk about a bad time to be Yankees fans. They want the team to win but Rodriguez to fail. The club can’t suspend or fine him — at least not now — because the collective bargaining agreement doesn’t allow. So A-Rod continues without a hint of hesitation.

From a selfish standpoint (what other standpoint does he have?), he has little to gain by an admission. Armstrong’s revelation could cost millions, as some sponsors are suing him for breach of contract.

Rodriguez has said: “I’m fighting for my life. If I don’t defend myself, no one else will.”

The traits that make athletes great are often their blind spot in real life. Fighting through adversity and negativity works on the field, so why not off?

“These are very competitive people and it’s what has made them successful in their careers — they refuse to give up,” Salt Lake sports psychologist Keith Henschen said.

Given a choice between athletes who love to win and those who hate to lose, Henschen said loss-haters are more driven.

“But they don’t know where to put that in all the aspects of their lives,” Henschen said. “It’s kind of a sad commentary, but that’s exactly why they’ve been successful and the only thing they know. Instead of saying, ‘Hey, I made some mistakes,’ they lie about things, do all kinds of things because they refuse to lose.”

A big problem, Henschen said, is the power of players associations, which negotiate agreements that block teams and leagues from carrying out suspensions and bans.

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“The unions have made rules in sports where common sense doesn’t make any difference anymore.”

But the leagues agreed to the terms.

So it goes, Rodriguez digging in like a batter awaiting a full-count pitch. His apparent motto is the one by Winston Churchill that says, “Never, never, never, never give up.”

Actually, the Churchill quote was this: "Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

Those are convictions A-Rod bypassed a long time ago.

Email: rock@desnews.com; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged