Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A-rod Blasts Into History, Sparks Yanks To Win

Alex Rodriguez became the youngest ballplayer ever to 400 home runs when he blasted two in a 12-3 rout of the Brewers to salvage the final game of the series at Miller Park last night. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and came just in the nick of time with George Steinbrenner lurking.

When he came up in the eighth inning against Milwaukee reliever Jorge De La Paula, the only question remaining was whether this would be the night he'd go into the record books. When he served De La Paula's offering into the right field seats to make the score 11-3, A-rod pumped his fist as he rounded the bases and was congratulated by teammates in the dugout with some pats on the back. In recognition of what he accomplished, the crowd of 37,586 gave him a deserved warm reception.

"It was a very special day for me, especially if you do it in a win that we needed most desperately," Rodriguez said afterwards.

"It's a special number," he added. "I'm actually just excited to do it with this uniform on."

He became the 40th player to ever reach 400 and surpassed Ken Griffey, Jr. for the fastest to the magic number. Griffey was 30 when he did it. A-rod doesn't turn 30 till July 27th.

"That's pretty incredible," skipper Joe Torre said. "The shape he's in, the way he works, who knows where he's going."

Entering the game, Rodriguez had been ice cold having gone 34 at bats without a long ball and 12 games without an RBI. But that would change in an instant when he stepped into the batter's box with two out in the first. After Gary Sheffield reached on a Wes Helms' error, the 29-year-old slugging third baseman took advantage by crushing a mamoth shot into the second deck in left for homer number 399 off Chris Capuano.

But the 2-0 lead was shortlived when starter Mike Mussina gave it right back in the bottom half of the frame with two outs. With Junior Spivey on second, major league RBI leader Carlos Lee knocked in Spivey with a double. A batter later, Lyle Overbay ripped a Mussina pitch over Bernie Williams' head for a double to tie the game.

But unlike recent games where the offense had been stagnant, the Bombers' bats finally awoke erupting for nine runs in the final five innings.

With fill-in left fielder Ruben Sierra and Rodriguez on second and third, substitute first baseman Tino Martinez roped a ground rule double to put the Yanks ahead to stay 4-2. Martinez got the start due to Jason Giambi suffering from back spasms. An inning later, he would get an early exit from the game for arguing with first base umpire Larry Vanover on a Brady Clark check swing. Joe Torre also was ejected for protesting vociferously.

After Mussina retired the Brewers in order in the fourth, he got more run support when Rodriguez and Sierra had runscoring singles and Martinez' double play plated a seventh run before his departure.

With two out an inning later, the captain got into the act with a solo shot to center for his sixth of the year to make it 8-2.

After Lee tacked on RBI number 55 with his 15th dinger of the season, Robinson Cano hit a two-run pinch hit blast for his fourth of the year to make it 10-3, turning the game into a laugher.

One inning after Rodriguez' milestone long ball, a bases loaded walk to Jeter forced in the 12th and final run.

Mussina improved to 6-4 going six innings of three-run ball with a walk and eight strikeouts.

Hideki Matsui did not start the game for the first time since September 26, 2003. However, he did get into the contest with a pinch hit infield single in the last inning to extend his consecutive games streak in Japan and the majors to 1634. He has participated in all 384 games since joining the Yanks.

Despite playing in two leagues, he would rank third all-time behind Cal Ripken, Jr. and Lou Gehrig.

After the game, Matsui didn't make a fuss over not starting. "We won the game, and I had a great base hit, too," he said. "I can't complain."

For the Yankees (29-30), there wasn't much to cry about on this night. With the victory, they picked up a game on suddenly sliding first place Baltimore. Despite being only 2-7 on this 12-game midwestern swing, they are six out.

Notes: A-rod's two homer game was his fourth of the season and 40th of his career. ... John Flaherty spelled catcher Jorge Posada and Rey Sanchez got a rare start at second. ... After Martinez was ejected, replacement Russ Johnson went 2-for-2 with two runs scored. ... Closer Mariano Rivera threw just six pitches in the ninth for his first appearance in four days. ... According to Torre, Kevin Brown will miss his next start Friday against the Cardinals with a sore left shoulder. Rookie Chien-Ming Wang (3-1, 4.03) will take his place.


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