A-Rod youngest in history to 600 homers
Historic drive comes off Jays' Marcum after prolonged drought
NEW YORK -- There was little doubt off the bat.
With 47,659 fans filling the seats, Derek Jeter on first base, two outs and a 2-0 count against Toronto's Shaun Marcum in the first inning of Wednesday's 5-1 Yankees win, Alex Rodriguez became the seventh and youngest man in Major League history to hit 600 home runs with a shot to center field. The baseball -- specially branded with "A104" -- landed, perhaps fittingly, in the netting that guards Monument Park beyond Yankee Stadium's center-field wall, where it was snatched by security guard Frankie Babilonia.
Babilonia gave the ball to Rodriguez, receiving a signed bat in exchange.
Rodriguez joins Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr. (630) and Sammy Sosa (609) as the only players to hit 600 or more home runs in Major League history. Ruth is the only other Yankee to reach the milestone. Griffey was the last man to reach the 600 plateau, hitting it on June 9, 2008, against Mark Hendrickson while a member of the Cincinnati Reds. Rodriguez is now just nine home runs shy of tying Sosa for sixth on the all-time list. The only active players currently within striking range of the plateau are Jim Thome (577 homers) and Manny Ramirez (554).
The home run -- Rodriguez's 17th of the season, his 255th as a Yankee, his 51st against Blue Jays pitching and his second off Marcum -- came in the 13th game and 47th at-bat after he hit No. 599 on July 22. It happened three years to the day after Rodriguez hit his 500th home run off Kansas City's Kyle Davies.
"It's definitely a special number," Rodriguez said before pausing to contemplate the magnitude of his achievement. "I'm certainly proud of it. I'll treasure it for a long, long time. Many years from today, I'll be able to reflect a lot better. Today, the focus was that we needed to win. It was good to do it in a winning fashion and to be able to hit it at home."
Rodriguez hit No. 600 eight days after his 35th birthday, one year and 188 days younger than Ruth was when he swatted his 600th home run as a Yankee. The 2,267 games he required to reach 600 are second behind only Ruth (2,044), and the 8,688 at-bats he needed were fourth behind Ruth (6,921), Bonds (8,211) and Sosa (8,637).
"It's an historic moment, and a great moment for the Yankees," manager Joe Girardi said.
Speedy to 600
|5.||Ken Griffey Jr.||2,440|
Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner issued a statement shortly following the home run to congratulate Rodriguez on his milestone.
"Congratulations to Alex on this great achievement and on adding another highlight to Yankees history," the statement read. "We are especially proud he accomplished this feat as a Yankee and here before the most loyal fans in baseball."
If you were to superimpose the milestone home runs that Rodriguez hit on Aug. 4, 2007, and on Wednesday, you might be struck by only the subtle differences -- the patches that interrupt the Yankees pinstripes and speak to the franchise's recent losses, the darker blue of the new Yankee Stadium's outfield walls, the fact that he wasn't wearing sunglasses at the plate for this day game. At the heart of it, a 35-year-old Rodriguez hitting a home run looked a lot like a 32-year-old Rodriguez hitting a home run.
But the chronological coincidence and surface similarities belie the deeper changes endured by the man at the plate. In the three years that separate Nos. 500 and 600 -- the distance that historically distinguishes mere Hall of Famers from a select coterie of all-time legends -- Rodriguez has seen his image and his legacy seismically jerked back and forth, from the lows of playoff struggles and an admission of performance-enhancing drug use to the highs of postseason heroics and a World Series ring.
Beating out The Babe
|1.||Rodriguez||NYY||35 years, 8 days|
|2.||Ruth||NYY||36 years, 196 days|
|3.||Aaron||Atl.||37 years, 81 days|
|4.||Bonds||S.F.||38 years, 16 days|
|5.||Mays||S.F.||38 years, 139 days|
|6.||Griffey||Cin.||38 years, 201 days|
|7.||Sosa||Tex.||38 years, 220 days|
In the increasingly drawn-out run-up to No. 600, Rodriguez reiterated time and again just how much he has changed.
"So much has changed, for me, for my place in that clubhouse," Rodriguez said. "That's the No. 1 thing that's changed -- my relationship with my teammates. The journey is what's fun, and playing with a team like that, with my teammates, I'm just in a good place. I'm enjoying playing the game, I'm enjoying playing good team baseball. It's much different than 500."
The biggest changes occurred in 2009, which became a defining year in Rodriguez's life and his career. It started at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., in February, when Rodriguez admitted that he had used performance-enhancing drugs during his three seasons in Texas. Rodriguez remembers that day well.
"That was probably the most difficult day of my life, and obviously my career," Rodriguez said on Wednesday. "I said at that press conference that there are some things I would love to go back and change. But the truth of the matter is that none of us can go back and change time. But I knew with the green I had in front of me that I would have the opportunity to rewrite some of the chapters in my life and in my career."
While for some Rodriguez's confession casts a permanent shadow on his accomplishments, Aaron, the former Home Run King, had nothing but praise for Rodriguez.
Seventh to 600
"When you reach that plateau, no matter where it is, whether you're playing in the Majors or the Minors, it's a tremendous accomplishment," Aaron said. "It means an awful lot to whoever reaches this achievement."
Rodriguez started rewriting some of those chapters in 2009, first with his 13th season of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs -- achieved with a grand slam in his final at-bat of the regular season -- and then a remarkable postseason run that included multiple memorable home runs and that culminated in his first World Series championship.
"For me, the perspective of hitting 600 home runs is it feels really good, but when you win a World Series, which is what I worked my whole life for, there's no personal achievement that can compare to celebrating on the mound and being the last team standing," Rodriguez said.
In the process of shedding the label that he couldn't perform on the game's biggest stage, Rodriguez says he learned that less is more -- on the field and when dealing with the media.
"When I think small, big things happen," Rodriguez said. "I found a niche in the clubhouse and a way of doing things that has worked much better for me. It is to let my play do the talking and do a lot less talking to you guys. In the last 10 days, it's been the exact opposite. I've been doing a lot of talking and not much on the field. It was just a reminder of how good things feel when I do it the way I've been doing it the last few years."
|5.||Ken Griffey Jr.||9,042|
Rodriguez admitted that the stress of hitting No. 600, compounded by the specially marked baseballs used for his at-bats that he called a "jinx," caused him to press at the plate.
"There's no question I was pressing -- I wanted to get it out of the way to get back to playing good team baseball," Rodriguez said, adding that after finally hitting the homer, he felt half-euphoria, half-relief. "My plan [on Wednesday] for the first time was just drive in a run, get a base hit, hit it hard somewhere."
The 46 at-bats between Nos. 599 and 600 stand as a record, more than doubling the previous mark of 21 set by Mays.
Rodriguez's landmark long ball earned the requisite curtain call from the Yankee Stadium faithful and an extended ovation again when he took the field for the second inning. There's no question that the third baseman's relationship with his New York fanbase has been complicated during his tenure in the Bronx. But there was nothing complex about it on Wednesday, with commemorative "600" T-shirts selling out at one stand in a matter of two innings, according to The Associated Press.
Rodriguez says now that he enjoys "playing ball and being one of the guys." Rodriguez may never be just one of the guys, not with 600 home runs to his name now and time to climb further up the all-time list. Still, at the end of the day, he could sit back and smile, his shoulders more relaxed now that another monkey is off his back and another tally is in the Yankees' win column.
"I'm at peace with my game," Rodriguez said. "I'm at peace with myself."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.