As the ball took flight, arcing toward center field, Alex Rodriguez jogged toward first base with his hands outstretched, his palms up. It is the universal body language for “What did I do?” but Rodriguez knew exactly what he had just done. His chase for 600 career home runs had lasted 12 games and 46 at-bats, but it was finally over.
On the third anniversary of his 500th home run, Rodriguez reached his long-awaited milestone Wednesday in the first inning of the Yankees’ game against the Blue Jays, connecting for a two-run homer off Shaun Marcum that landed in Monument Park in center field. The crowd at Yankee Stadium erupted as he rounded the bases, and when Rodriguez reached the plate, Derek Jeter was there waiting for him with an embrace. The Yankees’ dugout emptied, with Nick Swisher reaching him first, and the rest of his teammates crowding around before taking the celebration into the dugout.
A week after turning 35, Rodriguez became the youngest player to join the 600-home run club. Rodriguez’s homer injected an uplifting moment into a difficult personal stretch for him — he had gone without a hit in his previous 17 at-bats — and one of the gloomiest times in club history.
The Yankees are still mourning the deaths of Bob Sheppard, George Steinbrenner and Ralph Houk in a 10-day stretch. These men enriched the Yankees’ tradition.
Upholding that tradition has fallen to Rodriguez, whose accomplishment comes with an asterisk, the product of his admitted three years of steroid use with the Texas Rangers. He is also expected to be questioned by federal authorities in their investigation of Anthony Galea, a doctor based in Toronto.
The Yankees reached their second hitting milestone in 10 months, but there is little doubt which one resonated more. When Derek Jeter overtook Lou Gehrig last September to set the franchise standard for hits, one captain passing another, the achievement was celebrated as much for its purity as its significance. The legacy of Jeter, widely admired and respected, is untainted.
After a slow start, Rodriguez, who has 17 homers, with a strong finish can hit 30 for a 13th consecutive season. If he continued slugging 30 homers a year, Rodriguez would reach 700 in late 2013, surpass Babe Ruth in 2014 and overtake the career leader, Barry Bonds, with No. 763 in 2016, sometime before his 41st birthday.
And if you’re looking for a specific day on which those events might happen, I’d keep an eye on August 4th, just in case.
Congratulations, A-Rod !