Updated at 1:33 p.m., Saturday, August 4, 2007
Baseball: A-Rod becomes youngest to homer No. 500
By Jay Cohen
Rodriguez became the youngest player in major league history to hit 500 home runs, connecting on the first pitch he saw today to end a 10-day wait.
"I acted like a goofball running around the bases, but you only hit 500 once," he said after the New York Yankees beat Kansas City 16-8.
The 32-year-old Rodriguez stood at home plate for a second after his first-inning drive off Kyle Davies, waiting to see where it would land.
"I haven't hit one in so long I didn't know if it was going to be foul," he said. "Where that ball started, last week that ball would've hooked foul probably about 20 feet."
After more than a week of watching his teammates hit a lot of home runs, it was A-Rod's turn. He started trotting around the bases with a wide grin on his face as the sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium cheered wildly. He finished with three hits, along with a hug from Derek Jeter.
"I've conceded the fact that you can't will yourself to hit a home run. I tried hard for about five days," Rodriguez said.
A-Rod spoke with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and commissioner Bud Selig after the game. Selig was expected to be in San Diego to watch Barry Bonds try to break Hank Aaron's career home run record, and reportedly hasn't talked to the Giants slugger in years.
Rodriguez homered eight days after his birthday and surpassed Jimmie Foxx (32 years, 338 days) as the youngest player to reach 500. A-Rod is the 22nd player to reach the mark, the second this season behind Frank Thomas Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome might get there this year, too.
It may not take very long for Rodriguez to rise to the top of the list, either. Bonds was two away from breaking Aaron's record of 755 heading into San Francisco's game tonight.
Rodriguez leads the majors with 36 home runs this season, one more than he hit last year.
"His prime years are ahead of him, basically," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "This is a stop-off for him. It's not a destination."
Rodriguez hugged Jeter and Bobby Abreu, who both scored on the landmark home run, and blew a kiss toward the stands after completing his trip around the bases. His teammates were already on the field and he embraced several of them on his way back to the bench.
"It was awesome and then you kind of get that high school reception when you hit a home run and all of the guys are out of the dugout," Rodriguez said. "It was awesome. Pretty cool."
The crowd buzzed and roared again when A-Rod stuck his head out of the dugout for the long-awaited curtain call, which came 10 days after he hit No. 499.
"He deserves it," teammate Johnny Damon said. "He has been a tremendous asset to this game."
After he took his seat next to Jeter, the Yankees captain reached out and playfully rubbed A-Rod's head as the two superstars laughed. They were close when they were younger but Rodriguez admitted in spring training that their relationship had cooled over the years.
The All-Star third baseman became the third player to hit 500 as a Yankee and the second to do it in the Bronx. Babe Ruth did it at Cleveland on Aug. 11, 1929, and Mickey Mantle reached the mark at home against Baltimore on May 14, 1967.
"Nobody wants to give up a homer, be a part of history that way," Davies said. "I was trying to throw a sinker down and in and I didn't get it down and in far enough."
Rodriguez went into a tailspin after hitting No. 499 on July 25 at Kansas City. He was hitless in a career-worst 22 straight at-bats before ending the slump Thursday.
His 500th came in his 1,855th game. Only two players took fewer games to reach 500: Mark McGwire (1,639) and Ruth (1,740).
"This was a fantastic, monumental achievement," Steinbrenner said in a statement released by spokesman Howard Rubenstein.
A Rutgers student ended up with the ball, and the Yankees said he didn't want to be identified. Team spokesman Jason Zillo was negotiating with the man about the ball.
"I really want it back," Rodriguez said. "But if not, I congratulate him for catching it. Nice catch."
In the meantime, his batting helmet was headed for the Hall of Fame.
A-Rod and Yankees fans have had an up-and-down relationship since he joined the team in 2004.
"It takes awhile in New York," Rodriguez said. "For some people, it takes six months to a year. I think it truly took me three to four years to understand New York."
Robinson Cano tied a career high with four hits and Bobby Abreu scored four runs for New York, which has won five of its last six to improve to a season-best 10 games over .500. Mike Myers (3-0) got the last out of the fifth to earn the win.
Davies lasted just three innings in his first start for Kansas City, which acquired him from the Braves on Tuesday for reliever Octavio Dotel. John Bale (0-1) got the loss.
Rodriguez was the overall No. 1 pick in the 1993 draft by Seattle. One year later, he became the third 18-year-old shortstop in the majors since 1900. At that point, he gave little indication that he would develop into a two-time AL MVP and one of the game's greatest home run hitters.
A-Rod's first home run came on June 12, 1995, against Tom Gordon and Kansas City.
Rodriguez's milestone home runs
1 June 12, 1995, off Tom Gordon, Seattle vs. Kansas City
100 Aug. 12, 1998, off Nerio Rodriguez, Seattle at Toronto
200 May 12, 2001, off Jon Garland, Texas at Chicago (AL)
250 April 30, 2002, off Luke Prokopec, Texas at Toronto
300 April 2, 2003, off Ramon Ortiz, Texas at Anaheim
350 May 4, 2004, off Mark Mulder, New York Yankees at Oakland
400 June 8, 2005, off Jorge de la Rosa, New York Yankees at Milwaukee
450 July 21, 2006, off A.J. Burnett, New York Yankees at Toronto
500 Aug. 4, 2007, off Kyle Davies, New York Yankees vs. Kansas City