A year ago, Alex Rodriguez was serving a season-long suspension for having used performance-enhancing drugs. The closest he could get to a ballpark was watching his Yankees teammates on TV. But that was probably for the best. The last time he was on the field, in 2013, he was booed nearly everywhere he went, from Boston to the Bronx to the Bay Area.
Last night, though, things were different. The attitude, the scandal, the suspension — none of it mattered. Because A-Rod made history.
In the third inning, in front of the home crowd at Yankee Stadium, A-Rod stepped to the plate, took a strike, then a ball, then smacked a changeup over the centerfield wall. Rodriguez's home run was the 661st of his career, one dinger ahead of Willie Mays and moving him into fourth place on the all time homers list.
The Bronx crowd went crazy. And after Rodriguez entered the dugout, they wanted more.
"I certainly thought the days of curtain calls for me were long gone," A-Rod said. "All of this is pretty crazy. A year ago today I never thought I would ever get a curtain call or be hitting in the middle of the lineup for the Yankees, helping our team win."
His third-inning blast gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead against the Baltimore Orioles. It was a lead the team never lost. The Yanks won, 4-3, which put them at 18-11 on the season and three games up in the American League East.
Reaching the milestone was nice. But there was something else in the fans' cheers last night: Excitement.
After missing the playoffs last season, expectations were low for how the Yankees would fare in 2015. But Rodriguez has been succeeding in his new role as designated hitter.
"When you're productive, you kind of re-earn their respect and they pull for you," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "That's the bottom line — not just in our sport, but in all sports. How Alex would be received really came down to how productive he was going to be. So far, he's done a really good job."
Maybe more than anything else, Rodriguez is winning back New York because he's helping his team win. Whatever milestones come along the way are just a bonus. And there's another on the horizon: He's 38 hits from joining the 3,000-hit club.
Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images