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Madonna and A-Rod: How Close Are They?

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NEW YORK — A-Rod and the Material Girl? That's a lot of hits. Reports that Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez and Madonna have become close just as their marriages are disintegrating have both the celebrity gossip industry and the sporting world _ each a chatty bunch _ buzzing with questions about the two "friends."

A third boldface name was added to the saga when Rodriguez's wife fled from New York to the Paris home of rocker Lenny Kravitz, who denied anything improper had happened with the slugger's wife.

Rodriguez remained mum. He signed a couple of autographs before Thursday night's game at Yankee Stadium against Boston, but didn't take questions from a pack of reporters.

The whole story began last week amid tabloid stories that Madonna, who is married to the British filmmaker Guy Ritchie, had consulted a high-profile London divorce attorney. On Tuesday her publicist issued a statement saying Madonna's marriage was not in jeopardy. Then Us Weekly magazine reported that Rodriguez, 32, has been making late-night visits to the Manhattan apartment of Madonna, 49.

Janice Min, editor-in-chief of Us Weekly, said the magazine was "100 percent" confident in its story, which she said was based on multiple sources.

Min said Us Weekly has been careful not to overstate what's known of the relationship, which the latest issue labels a "hot new friendship."

"The facts are that he comes to her apartment late at night, that they have a friendship, that she had never been photographed at a Yankees game until she was photographed in A-Rod's seats," Min said. "I think from those facts we put forth, a lot of people would infer that something more is going on."

Madonna's publicist, Liz Rosenberg, acknowledged the two know each other after meeting at a charity event, but denied any romance. Rodriguez has refused to even address the topic when questioned by reporters, leading some to wonder if he could indeed be involved in the biggest Yankee romance since Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.

On Thursday, the New York Daily News reported that Rodriguez and wife Cynthia have separated, citing an anonymous source. They were married in 2002 and have two children, Natasha Alexander and Ella Alexander. Then came news that Cynthia visited Kravitz in Paris.

"Cynthia is a friend ... she came here to escape from everything happening in New York City," Kravitz said in a statement. "I opened my home to her as a friend and I find it extremely hurtful that I am now being referred to as an adulterer."

Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said the reports would not faze the club.

"It's no distraction to the team," Steinbrenner said Thursday at the Yankees' complex in Tampa, Fla. "Whether it is to Alex I don't know. But from what I'm hearing, no, it's not."

Coverage of the private lives of Yankees is not new, particularly in an era in which professional athletes are increasingly scrutinized off the field.

Earlier this year, it was reported that former Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens had an affair with country music singer Mindy McCready. Derek Jeter's string of girlfriends also have received considerable press, most notably a relationship with another mega-selling singer, Mariah Carey.

Rodriguez, however, has found himself in the tabloids more than any other Yankee since arriving in New York in 2004. Last year, he was labeled "Stray-Rod" on the front page of the New York Post after being photographed out at night with a former Vegas stripper.

"I think for Alex, he's been through this before, he knows how to handle it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I'm sure there are times he wishes he could just fit in. That's the price you pay."

"Obviously, everyone likes to keep their life private. Unfortunately, in this world, that doesn't happen."

A copy of a local tabloid with a front-cover headline of "Split!" was on a table in the middle of the Boston clubhouse.

"New York, it's like Us Weekly meets the fun bunch," Red Sox first baseman Sean Casey said.

On Thursday, sports talk radio in New York was dominated by larger concerns: mainly the dim playoff prospects for both the Yankees and Mets.

The sports blog Deadspin wondered Thursday how Rodriguez would be greeted by fans at Yankee Stadium in the team's upcoming series against the Red Sox: "Will there be any cone bras in the stands? Sean Penn masks? The theme from `Evita' being sung by a heavenly choir of visiting Red Sox fans?"

There were, as usual, a lot of fans wearing pinstripe jerseys with his No. 13 on the back for the series opener. One of them, Shawn Richards, said he and nine pals came from western Canada to cheer for Rodriguez.

"A-Rod's the man!" Richards said. "He can do whatever he wants. It's New York."

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AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker in New York and AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.