Rodriguez blasts 500th home run
Rodriguez on Saturday became the youngest player to hit 500 home runs. He swung at the first pitch Kansas City starter Kyle Davies threw him in the first inning and skied it into the lower stands in left field for a three-run home run that set the tone in New York's 21-hit attack in a 16-8 victory over the Royals before a sellout crowd of 54,056 on a humid, 87-degree afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
"His prime years are ahead of him, really," marveled Yankees manager Joe Torre. "This is not a destination. This is a stop off and I'm proud to be standing in that dugout with him."
The 22nd player in Major League history to reach 500 homers was 32 years and eight days old when he delivered after having hit No. 499 against the Royals in Kansas City on July 25. Jimmie Fox was 32 years, 338 days old when he hit No. 500.
Rodriguez also joined Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle as one of only three players to hit their 500th homers as a Yankees. Ruth swatted his at Cleveland on Aug. 11, 1929 and Mantle reached the mark at Yankee Stadium in a game against Baltimore on May 14, 1967.
There's no telling how many homers Rodriguez will eventually hit, but Hank Aaron's 755 total is within reach. Barry Bonds will pass Aaron in the very near future and if Rodriguez stays healthy he's almost certain to pass the San Francisco outfielder.
"When I was 24 I never thought about 500," Rodriguez said. "I'm not going to think about what my destination is. I have a real passion for playing winning baseball and playing baseball the right way and to put on this uniform and take one step at a time.
"The good Lord will lead my path and hopefully that is somewhere special."
Rodriguez already has reached somewhere special since hitting home run No. 1 off Tom Gordon of the Royals on June 12, 1995 while with Seattle. His 500th homer was his 36th season. He scored three runs on Saturday and is now the only player in Major League history to have hit 35 homers, driven in 100 runs (108 so far) and scored 100 runs (101) in 10 consecutive seasons. Foxx did it nine times from 1932-1940.
Rodriguez seemed genuinely happy and pleased to have hit No. 500. He'd spent the last couple of days ironing some wrinkles in his swing. Derek Jeter singled with one out to set the tone for the first inning blast. Bobby Abreu walked on four pitches.
Rodriguez didn't wait. He put a nice swing on the first pitch Davies threw him and skied it into left field. He stood at the plate for a moment, leaning to see if the ball was going to stay fair. It did by a good 20 feet.
A student at Rutgers University, who did not want to reveal his name, gathered in the baseball. The Yankees are trying to get it back.
"It's his ball and I'm happy for him," Rodriguez said, adding that while he's not much of a collector he'd like to have some memorabilia to give to his daughter Natasha Alexander. "Hopefully we can negotiate something and get it back. I really want the ball back. But if not, I congratulate him for catching it. Nice catch."
Rodriguez trotted around the bases, savoring the moment while the crowd stood and roared its approval. Just as he crossed the plate Rodriguez waved toward the stands behind the plate.
"I was waving at my wife and daughter, but I think my wife was still on the highway so I was waving at nobody," Rodriguez said, drawing laughter. "But that's usually the right thing. My wife is usually about 30 minutes late. Right on cue." The third baseman's agent, Scott Boras, said Cynthia Rodriguez actually was in the house. She hadn't reached her seat, but got to see her husband round the bases.
Teammates and coaches left the dugout. Jeter was the first to greet Rodriguez at the plate and gave a big smile and high-five. Abreu gave a high five and a hug and Rodriguez moved on to be swarmed by teammates.
"I was a little embarrassed,' Rodriguez said. I felt like were in high school; all the guys coming out to shake my hand in the first inning."
After the game Rodriguez received a congratulatory call from Baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine also called.
Now Rodriguez sets sail toward No. 600. If he reaches that mark he'll be the sixth player in history to do so and the first non-outfielder. Aaron, Bonds, Ruth, Willie Mayes and Sammy Sosa are the five players to have hit 600 homers.
"The sky is the limit," Torre said. "Who knows? The health thing is one thing, that's the luck part of this game. But the work ethic, no one works harder than him. This is just a stop off, this 500 thing."
Rodriguez, who could opt to become a free agent at the end of this season, wouldn't talk about where he might be playing in 2008. Boras said that he'll sit down with his client at the end of this season and a decision will be made at that time.
"The hardest thing for Alex is when he doesn't perform the way he feels he should perform," said Boras, who took a red-eye flight from Southern California in order to be on hand for Saturday's game.
Rodriguez had a tough 2006 season with the Yankees. Boras noted that the infielder worked on a "repeatable" swing during the off-season and that has made a big difference in 2007.
"New York was never an issue," Boras insisted. It was his own drive to be a great player.
"I clearly believe Alex has a choice to do a number of things," Boras continued. "Chronologically he has the body type of a 25-year-old. He can still play infield positions and other positions. He has to look at his career in many ways - historically and economically. I don't know what variable he may want to use once he goes to make that decision."
Rodriguez was the man front and center on Saturday, but there were many Yankees who also deserved to take bows on an afternoon they scored in every inning but the second and the eighth. When Kansas City tied the game 6-6 against young Phil Hughes with a four-run fifth, the Yankees went ahead 7-6 in the bottom of that inning and rampaged with a four-run sixth and batted around in a five-run seventh.
Wilson Betemit and Robinson Cano each drove in three runs. Abreu homered, had three hits and scored four times. The only Yankee to have a bad day was Johnny Damon, who went 0-for-6 and struck out three times.
Hughes, the top prospect who suffered a hamstring injury while pitching a no-hitter at Texas on May Day, started strong but ran out of gas. He was relieved with two outs in the top of the fifth and was charged with six runs on seven hits.
But the talk was all about Rodriguez.
"Having hit his 400th and 500th here and hopefully the next milestone, he's certainly going to stand tall with guys who have won the pinstripes," Torre said.