NEW YORK (AP/WFAN) — Alex Rodriguez added his own memento to Monument Park, even though retirement remains years off.
After struggling to hit his 600th home run, A-Rod reached the milestone with his usual dramatic flair. He became the youngest player to attain the mighty mark and did it by driving a pitch over Yankee Stadium’s center-field fence and into the area where the pinstriped greats are remembered. And remarkably, he did it exactly three years to the day after his 500th homer.
“That’s amazing,” Rodriguez said. “To the day.”
His two-run, first-inning drive off Toronto’s Shaun Marcum put New York ahead, and the Yankees coasted to a 5-1 victory over the Blue Jays on a sweltering Wednesday afternoon. The win ended the Yankees’ three-game losing streak.
Rodriguez went 9 for 46 after homering on July 22, the longest stretch between Nos. 599 and 600 for any of the seven to reach the mark. He was hitless in his last 17 at-bats.
“It was a relief just to put it past me,” he said. “There’s no question I was pressing ’cause I wanted to get it out of the way.”
A-Rod reached the milestone after a 12-game drought, connecting with a 2-0 pitch over the middle of the plate for his 17th home run of the season.
Frankie Babilonia, a 23-year-old in his second-year as a Yankee Stadium security guard, retrieved the ball and gave it to his supervisor, who had it passed on to Rodriguez. Babilonia got to the ball because another security guard in the area was on break, and he was rewarded with an autographed A-Rod bat.
Babilonia said it was his job to turn in the ball, and he never thought about trying to keep it. In January, the ball a fan caught for A-Rod’s 500th homer was auctioned for $103,579.
Babilonia called the day “at the top” of his life experiences.
“Later on in the years, if I ever have children, I’ll let them know I was the one who caught the 600th ball,” he said.
At 35 years, 8 days, Rodriguez joined a club that includes Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr. (630) and Sammy Sosa (609). The next youngest was Ruth at 36 years, 196 days, in 1931, though he did it in 183 fewer games.
Marcum said the homer came on a cut fastball.
“It’s just another one on my stats. It’s important to him,” Marcum said.
A-Rod raised a hand slightly in triumph as he rounded first base, then completed his trot to the roar of the crowd of 47,659. He was greeted at home plate by Yankees captain Derek Jeter, both slapping outstretched hands above their heads.
Jeter also had been on base for his 500th homer.
“A lot of good things for him to come. He’s got another 15 years,” Jeter said. “You never know how many he’d going to hit.”
Rodriguez was greeted after the homer by the rest of the Yankees. After stepping off the field, then coming out for a curtain call, he kept on receiving congratulations in the dugout.
Toronto manager Cito Gaston was playing for the San Diego Padres the day Mays hit his 600th in 1969 — although Gaston didn’t get into that day’s game.
“I don’t think too many guys can say they saw a 600th homer hit by two different guys,” he said.
Rodriguez rated the experience under winning the World Series last year — and even not as significant as passing players on the career list.
“We’re fascinated by even numbers. The real milestone is when you start surpassing some of the all-time greats,” he said. “No personal achievement can compare to celebrating on the mound and being the last team standing.”
The ball he hit was the 104th specially marked one that had been used for each of his plate appearances since reaching No. 599. The Yankees immediately put commemorative T-shirts on sale at concession stands for $25 each, and one stand behind home plate sold out within two innings.
The milestone provided a lift during a trying stretch for the Yankees. Not only have they watched Tampa Bay pass them for the AL East lead, they are mourning the deaths last month of owner George Steinbrenner, beloved public-address announcer Bob Sheppard and former manager Ralph Houk.
Rodriguez regretted the Boss wasn’t around to witness the moment, even though it likely would have caused A-Rod grief. “I guess the last two weeks it wouldn’t have been a lot of fun for me with him looking over us,” Rodriguez said.
A-Rod’s life changed in February 2009, when in response to a SportsIllustrated.com report, he admitted to using steroids while playing for the Texas Rangers from 2001-03, a span when he hit 156 homers. He also had major hip surgery, finally returning with a team-first outlook.
“Often in my career I’ve said things and it’s been hot air and I haven’t really followed through,” he said. “But I think for the most part over the last two years I’ve done my best to walk the walk. And, again, I think I still have a lot of work to do, both on and off the field.”
Rodriguez wound up 1 for 4 against Toronto, and Derek Jeter was 4 for 4 and scored three runs. Mark Teixeira drove in three runs with an RBI double in the third and a two-run single in the fifth to support Phil Hughes (13-4), who allowed one run and four hits in 5 1-3 innings.
Marcum (10-5), who had won three straight starts, gave up five runs in six innings.
A-Rod became the fourth player in the past decade to reach 600 after none in 31 years. As part of his $275 million, 10-year deal signed after opting out of his contract during the 2007 World Series, he can earn up to $30 million more for five milestone homers: $6 million each for tying Mays, Ruth, Aaron and Bonds, and $6 million more for breaking the record.
A-Rod went 28 at-bats between Nos. 499 and 500, a slide that included an 0-for-21 stretch.
“As long as they don’t have a zero at the end,” he said, “I think I’m going to be OK.”
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