With his 40th birthday coming up on Monday, Alex Rodriguez’s 2015 script has taken a dramatic turn. A year that started with no one seeing a near All-Star comeback has risen to the point that ridiculous nights, such as Saturday’s home run hat trick, are almost anticipated and, in fact, are predicted by teammates.
When A-Rod came to the plate in the ninth inning on Saturday at Target Field in a one-run game, he had two home runs already in his pocket, but a third was just a pitch away. At least, that is what CC Sabathia thought.
After another poor start, Sabathia was back in the clubhouse watching A-Rod prepare for Twins All-Star closer Glen Perkins in the ninth. Rodriguez — who looked like a basketball player in the zone — felt “centered,” while Sabathia felt certain.
“I kind of felt like I knew that was coming,” Sabathia said after the Yankees — well, mostly A-Rod — turned his five-run deficit into an 8-5 win. “I watched him watch the video [of Perkins] and kind of knew he was going to swing at the first pitch. He hit it out.”
He sure did. He crushed the ball over the center-field wall.
“Some people say life starts at 40; I’ll sign up for that right now,” Rodriguez said.
Who knows how he is really doing all this. There are facts that have to make you wonder.
He is about to turn 40. He missed a full season. He has had two hip surgeries. He has a history with performance-enhancing drugs. He is being tested often but has gotten around that before.
With A-Rod, the truth eventually has had a tendency to ruin most feel-good moments. So this fairy tale — as fun as it is — always comes with an asterisk just one newsbreak away.
Still, all that didn’t stop Joe Girardi from celebrating on Saturday. He knows the Yankees would probably not be in first place, 5½ games up, and in control of the AL East without Rodriguez’s 23 homers. He knows that Rodriguez nearly single-handedly brought them back with his three homers that erased a 5-0 deficit and tied the game before John Ryan Murphy hit an opposite-field three-run homer later in the ninth.
“It is maybe our best win of the year,” Girardi said.
Girardi might end up being in the AL manager of the year running and, if he is, the decision to put A-Rod at DH full-time will be the biggest reason why. It has decreased the wear and tear on Rodriguez’s body, allowing No. 13 to stay healthy and upright so far.
“I think he works hard,” Girardi said when asked how A-Rod is doing this, physically. “I saw him in the weight room after [Friday night’s] game. I think just DHing him has really lessened the toll on his body, the time that he is on his feet.”
Saturday was A-Rod’s fifth three-homer game but his first since 2010. He has had multi-home run days an incredible 62 times. His first home run Saturday went an astounding 452 feet and landed in third deck. He had half the Yankees’ RBIs in the comeback win.
“It was an awesome night,” Rodriguez said. “It was an awesome win.”
One truth that can’t be denied is that A-Rod is a leader on the club. He is different than his all-time frenemy Derek Jeter. Rodriguez is vocal. He goes out of his way to be involved. He is very willing to laugh at himself.
“He’s a teacher,” Girardi said. “He brings people together because he teaches, but he also likes to have fun. I have said a lot of times, people around him are laughing a lot. It is important during a long season.”
But the way A-Rod has acted — being more accessible to the fans and media — is all fine and good, but if he weren’t a lethal hitter with a .277 average, 23 homers and 58 RBIs, he would have failed to win so many people back to his side.
“It is more than I expected because of the layoff and the hip surgeries and his age,” Girardi said. “I think it would be hard for us to predict that.”
Now, though, almost anything seems possible again on the field. Rodriguez has returned as the center of the Yankees’ universe. A year ago, who would have believed that is a good thing?