Alex Rodriguez had quite a 40th birthday bash.
A-Rod became the fourth player in major-league history to homer as a teen and in his 40s, marking his birthday by lining an opposite-field shot to right against his former team to help the New York Yankees beat the Texas Rangers 6-2 Monday night.
“It’s amazing, hitting one as a teenager and hitting one here today,” Rodriguez said. “A lot has happened, and I’m just happy to be here.”
Ty Cobb, Rusty Staub and Gary Sheffield are the only other players to homer before turning 20 and then at age 40 or after, according to STATS.
“It’s remarkable what he’s been able to do, and how good he was at such a young age, and he continues to play well at an older age,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Rodriguez has 24 homers this season and 678 in his career, fourth on the all-time list. The latest came two days after he went deep three times against Minnesota in his previous game.
“Very impressive, but you know we’re not surprised by much that he does anymore,” said third baseman Chase Headley, now playing the position A-Rod had in New York before his season-long suspension a year ago for violations of baseball’s drug agreement and labor contract.
A-Rod’s solo drive in the sixth off Matt Harrison (1-2) was the designated hitter’s MLB’s-best sixth homer on his birthday, STATS said, breaking a tie with Todd Helton, Chipper Jones, Derrek Lee and Al Simmons.
“Yeah, it’s pretty depressing being 40. I’ve had a lot of texts and emails that I’ve joined an exclusive club,” Rodriguez said. “But I’m definitely grateful and happy.”
When he was traded to the Yankees before spring training in 2004, Rodriguez was only three seasons into the $252 million, 10-year contract he signed with Texas after starting his career with Seattle from 1994-2000. He received a $275 million, 10-year deal from New York after the 2007 season.
Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius had a career-high four RBI and matched his best with three hits, including a two-run homer in the third. His two-run single in the seventh made it 6-2.
The AL East-leading Yankees won for the seventh time in eight games, and their seven-game division lead is their largest since leading by 7½ games on July 29, 2012. New York’s 15-5 record in July is the best in the majors.
New York starter Ivan Nova (3-3) allowed two runs and five hits in five innings. Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances followed with hitless relief.
Harrison gave up six runs and six hits in six innings, his third start since coming back from spinal fusion surgery.
“I feel like I didn’t get loose until about the fifth inning,” he said. “The third inning I made some bad pitches to start that inning off and got some trouble there. After us scoring the two runs I went and gave it back to them, gave the momentum right back.”
Rodriguez doesn’t remember any clubhouse conversations as a young player about still being in the game at 40 years old.
“You talk more about 35, coming into your mid-30s. Forty’s not really talked about,” Rodriguez before the game. “So, sure, there’s a certain amount of pride.”
On his 39th birthday a year ago, Rodriguez was serving his season-long ban.
“I had a lot of time to think and evaluate. It was a dark time, for sure,” Rodriguez said. “To be able to come back this year and look back, and hopefully I’m going to be a better player but more importantly a better person for the next 40 years.”
When asked what a 40-year-old A-Rod would tell the 30- or 20-year-old A-Rod, he first said he wasn’t in position to give anyone advice, including himself. But he then said there was a point in time when hitting home runs and being a great player were all that mattered to him.
“I figured that if I hit more home runs, it would justify for whatever behavior I had off the field,” he said, without being specific. “And I realize today that it’s not that way at all. Hitting home runs doesn’t make you a good father. It doesn’t make you a good friend. And it certainly doesn’t make you a good teammate. And to me, they’re both important.”
The three-time AL MVP became the 10th current major-league player who is at least 40, according to STATS. The oldest is Toronto pitcher LaTroy Hawkins at 42 years, 218 days old Monday, followed by Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon (42 years, 64 days). The oldest position player is Miami outfielder Ichiro Suzuki (41 years, 278 days).
Girardi said Rodriguez is extremely productive and re-established himself as an everyday player.
“I’m going to continue to work hard. I thought April would be my most challenging month. Then as I started getting more repetition, I was hoping to get better and I think that’s happened,” Rodriguez said. “It’s also a nice reminder to me that if you play clean and you work hard, that good things can happen.”
In February 2009, Rodriguez admitted to using steroids while with the Rangers from 2001-03.
“The fans (in Texas) were always incredible to me. I will always be grateful to (former owner) Tom Hicks and the Rangers for giving me an opportunity at 25 years old to be the leader of a franchise,” he said. “I learned a lot here. I was 25 years old. I was a young kid here, and I had a good time. I tried to do my best as a leader. I did the best I could.”
BIG EFFORT AT THE BOTTOM
The Yankees went ahead to stay when the Nos. 7-9 batters all had hits to start the third. Headley singled, Gregorius homered and Brendan Ryan tripled before scoring on Chris Young’s sacrifice fly. That came a day after New York’s Nos. 6-9 batters accounted for all the RBI in a 7-2 win at Minnesota.
As Mark Teixeira rounded third base in the eighth, coach Joe Espada said “Easy! Easy!” — an indication he should be able to score easily. Except CF Leonys Martin’s throw beat Teixeira to the plate and he was out to end the inning. Teixeira glared back toward the coach, clearly upset, and was very animated in the dugout. “That can’t happen,” Teixeira said. “I can get hurt not expecting a plate at the plate. That’s a big run. There’s just a lot of reasons why that can’t happen.” Martin also had a leaping catch near the top of the 8-foot wall to rob Teixeira of a possible homer in the second.
Yankees: CF Jacoby Ellsbury was out of the starting lineup with a sore shoulder a day after slamming into the wall making a catch in Minnesota. He entered as a defensive replacement in the eighth.
Rangers: LHP Derek Holland is set to begin his rehab assignment Thursday with Triple-A Round Rock. It will be his first game since hurting his shoulder in the home opener April 10.
Yankees: Chris Capuano will make a spot start Tuesday in place of rookie RHP Bryan Mitchell, who was in line to make the start until an accident in the weight room last week. Mitchell is OK, but hit his head after falling backward while working with exercise bands attached to a door that someone opened.
Rangers: LHP Martin Perez (0-1, 4.91 ERA) makes his third start since returning from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees are one of two AL opponents the 24-year-old Perez hasn’t faced.
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