Alex Rodriguez, now fourth on all-time home run list, never lacks for drama
Everything is falling into place for A-Rod again in ways that even he couldn’t have expected.
BOSTON — Drama always finds Alex Rodriguez, so you could practically feel this controversial bit of history coming on this night. As he came up to pinch-hit in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game, he set off a bonfire of booing at Fenway Park from fans who had waited all night to welcome him back to town.
“I don’t usually notice the difference,” he said afterward with a laugh, “but that booing was pretty intense. It was pretty passionate.”
Then Junichi Tazawa fell behind 3-0, and the pitches weren’t close. A-Rod, who said he has rarely swung at 3-0 pitches throughout his career, this time thought of a conversation Joe Girardi had with him late in spring training, when the manager suggested he start being more aggressive in such situations.
“I told him the days of walking and stealing a base were pretty much over,” Girardi recalled. “Swing the bat.”
As a result, A-Rod decided to be aggressive.
“I just thought 3-0 would be the best pitch I got,” he said.
Tazawa, meanwhile, said he didn’t merely assume A-Rod would be taking. He said he thought Rodriguez “could be aggressive in that kind of situation,” and tried to come inside, off the plate, and entice him with a pitch that would jam him.
“It caught too much of the plate,” said Tazawa.
Way too much, as it turned out. And even though the pitch registered at 95 mph on the scoreboard radar gun, A-Rod turned on it and hit a ball about as hard as humanly possible, it seemed, a rocket to left just high enough to clear the Green Monster and crash into the seats above it. The brief silence that followed at Fenway was surely the result of a collective gasp from the home fans, as they processed what happened in the blink of an eye. Then more boos.
At that point A-Rod said he didn’t hear a thing. He’d wanted this controversial milestone home run dearly, No. 660 that tied Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run list; he’d made that clear, repeating for days that Mays had been his late father’s favorite player.
“I wish he was still alive to see it,” A-Rod said.
So as he rounded the bases, he said he was filled with happiness that would lead to emotions he had trouble controlling in post-game interviews. Some of it was the pure thrill of hitting such a clutch home run, as the Yankees held on for the 3-2 victory.
Some of it was the full-circle wonder of it all, hitting the home run in the ballpark where he played his first game as a major-leaguer, as a 19-year-old in 1994.
“I’m glad it happened in such a special place," he said.
Whatever his fond memories of making his debut here, this is a ballpark where the fans have treated him like the villain of all villains since he became a Yankee and brawled with Jason Varitek in 2004.
And considering that for so much of his career, A-Rod couldn’t seem to get out of his own way in the postseason, trying too hard to be the hero, hitting a game-winner here had to make it a little more meaningful.
None of that will change the fact that A-Rod has long since taken all the historical significance out of such a home run by becoming a serial steroid user, finally getting suspended for all of the 2014 season. Indeed, you have to wonder if some of the emotion he showed Friday night was caused by regret. Before the game, in fact, he responded to a question about it, saying, “You know I have regret and I’m trying to do the best to finish my career on a high note."
Even so, if he is playing clean now, as he says and he would be putting the remaining $61 million of his contract at risk if he wasn’t his success this season surely must make him revisit those regrets and wonder how all of this would feel if he was truly making history.
On this night, however, after teammates had poured beer and champagne over him in a clubhouse celebration that left the carpet soaked around his locker, A-Rod said that more than anything he was simply grateful.
“A year ago I never would have dreamt about having this incredible night,” he said.
He brushed aside questions about the controversy over the $6 million in bonus money the Yankees don’t want to pay him for the milestone home run, as the Daily News first reported, saying “those things will take care of themselves.”
This season, at least, everything is falling into place for A-Rod again in ways that even he couldn’t have expected. Sort of like hitting a pinch-hit home run for the first time his career.
No, he never lacks for drama.