Alex Rodriguez at No. 3,000, With Bullet and Asterisk


Alex Rodriguez joined the 3,000-hit club in style on Friday at Yankee Stadium, in a familiar scene with a much different character in the starring role, Tyler Kepner reports for The New York Times.

Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ revered former captain, had been the last player to reach 3,000 hits, doing so in 2011 with a home run. Rodriguez, whose place in baseball history will always be complicated by his use of performance-enhancing drugs, also homered Friday for his milestone hit in a 7-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers.

On the first pitch he saw in the first inning, Rodriguez drove a 95-mile-an-hour fastball from Justin Verlander over the right-center-field fence. It seemed at first to be a lazy fly ball, but carried quickly as it sailed over the outfield grass. The right fielder, J. D. Martinez, backed abruptly into the scoreboard as he gave chase, running out of room as the ball landed several rows behind him.

“I was happy to get it out of the way, give us a one-run lead,” Rodriguez said. “So happy to do it here in front of our fans, and how great they’ve been with me. And I was especially happy that my two daughters were sitting behind home plate.”

Rodriguez pointed to the girls and blew kisses after crossing the plate with his 667th career home run. Jeter and Wade Boggs are the only others to homer for their 3,000th career hit, but while Jeter got the ball back from the fan who caught it, Rodriguez did not.

The fan, Zack Hample, who claims to have caught more than 8,000 game and practice balls at major league stadiums, has refused to give it up.

“The thing I was thinking about is: ‘Where’s Jeet’s guy, the guy that caught the ball?’ ” Rodriguez said, to laughter at his postgame news conference. “That’s the guy I needed here. Where’s that guy? I wasn’t so lucky.”

Rodriguez, who is locked in a dispute with the Yankees over a $6 million bonus tied to his 660th homer, was all smiles afterward. The Steinbrenner family congratulated him via the Yankees’ official Twitter account, and scoreboard messages saluted the accomplishment.

After becoming the 29th player to reach the 3,000 mark, Rodriguez took a brief curtain call, raising his helmet and waving. For all the controversy he has caused in his career, he has been on his best behavior this season, giving the impression that he has been chastened by the yearlong drug suspension he served last season, after an ugly legal battle.

“I’m grateful,” Rodriguez said. “I’m extremely appreciative to the Yankees for giving me an opportunity to put the uniform back on. There were days last year I never thought I would sometimes get that uniform back on, to be able to play in this stadium in front of these fans. And for that I’m thankful to the Steinbrenner family.”

Rodriguez admitted in 2009 to using steroids when he played for the Texas Rangers. He asked then for fans to judge him from that day forward, but began using banned drugs again the very next season, lying repeatedly and even suing the Players’ Association, among others.

Yet production on the field, and a contrite persona off it, seem to have won back many Yankees fans. Rodriguez has been a force offensively, with a .277 average, 13 home runs and 35 runs batted in. His on-base percentage, .382, is the best on the roster.

“I think this would be an awful lot to ask of a player that was 39 ½ — he’ll be 40 in a month or so — sitting out basically two years, to play as well as he has played,” Manager Joe Girardi said. “But he worked hard. He never stopped believing in himself that he could do this.”

The moment was also punctuated by awkwardness, a hallmark of a career in which little seems to ever go smoothly. Rodriguez smiled as the ball cleared the fence, then extended his hand to the first base coach, Tony Pena — who was positioned far from him. Rodriguez slapped the air as he rounded first, anyway.

The Yankees did not greet him at the plate, but they emerged from the dugout and met him on the dirt warning track in front of it. Rodriguez, the designated hitter, said he was “very emotional” as he collected himself in the clubhouse after the homer.

There was more unbridled emotion, at least in public view, when Jeter connected for his 3,000th hit; the Yankees relievers trotted in from the bullpen, and many of the visiting Tampa Bay Rays stood and clapped for him. The pitcher, David Price, even had time to take a water break while the celebration unfolded.

This time, the Tigers did not applaud.

“If it hadn’t been a home run, you probably would’ve seen some people clapping,” Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus said. “I think we were more miffed about the run being scored. It wasn’t a knock on A-Rod. It was a great achievement. Had it been a single, we probably would’ve gave him a nice golf clap.”

Rodriguez said he noticed some Tigers tipping their caps to him from the dugout the next time he came to bat. He was touched, he said, when Miguel Cabrera made the effort to hug him on the field after the game.

“Twenty years from now, that’s really what I’ll take away,” he said.

Rodriguez has fashioned an unforgettable career that stretches to 1994, when he debuted for the Seattle Mariners at age 18, a year after graduating high school. Then, he was a skinny shortstop batting ninth in the lineup at Fenway Park, his first hit an infield dribbler off Sergio Valdez of the Boston Red Sox.

His 3,000th hit was different in every way, much like the man himself. Rodriguez chose to tarnish a legacy that could have ranked among the greatest ever. But he has returned to reach milestones while still, improbably, going strong.

“Everything about this year has been a surprise,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve never enjoyed the game as much as I have this year.”

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