Say what you will about Alex Rodriguez, the man has a flair for the dramatic.
Friday night at Fenway Park, pinch hitting in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game, Rodriguez lined a 3-0 pitch from Junichi Tazawa into the Green Monster sea,ts, giving the New York Yankees the lead and eventually a 3-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
Hitting home runs is nothing new for A-Rod. He has been clearing fences in the American League for two decades. But this was his 660th homer, tying him with the Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays of the New York-San Francisco Giants and, briefly at the end of his career, the New York Mets.
And it was his first pinch-hit home run.
And he did it at Fenway Park, against the archrival Red Sox, to the persistent boos of Red Sox Nation.
Dramatic? I guess so.
Adding to the drama were A-Rod’s return to the game this spring after a season-long suspension in 2014 for using performance-enhancing drugs, plus the $6-million bonus the Yankees are refusing to pay him for tying Mays.
Allegations of drug use have dogged Rodriguez for years and will tack an unofficial asterisk to his stunning accomplishments since breaking in with the Seattle Mariners in 1994, just as they have tarnished the reputations of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and others. In case you had not noticed, A-Rod has 2,956 hits. Barring injury, will join the exclusive 3,000 hit club this season. Only 28 players are members. If he reaches that plateau, he will become just the fifth player in the history of the game with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs , joining Hank Aaron, Mays, Eddie Murray and Rafael Palmeiro. Aaron, Mays and Murray were clean; Palmeiro was suspended 10 years ago for using performance-enhancing drugs. But his stats still stand, as A-Rod’s will.
But A-Rod’s tainted history will block his entry to the Hall of Fame for a long time. Baseball writers who hold the keys to Cooperstown have long memories. The shame is that A-Rod might well have compiled his gaudy record without resorting to drugs. As a high-school kid in Miami he possessed the rare combination of power and speed as was acknowledged as the best prospect in the land. As a young pro he was already one of baseball’s finest. Who can recall the Great Debate of the late 1990s as to the best shortstop in the game? Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez. How unfortunate that Rodriguez, the last one playing, is reaching career milestones to boos instead of cheers. For that he has no one to blame but himself.