Homer caps A-Rod's whirlwind day
Frustrations in field erased by crowd-pleasing homer in eighth
NEW YORK -- It doesn't take long for a Yankee Stadium crowd to switch from booing to wanting a curtain call. Just ask Alex Rodriguez.
A-Rod heard the worst and best from the crowd on Monday afternoon against the Devil Rays, a continuing saga of the two-time American League MVP and his relationship with Yankees fans.
It started in the first inning. Rodriguez chased a Ty Wigginton foul pop halfway between home plate and third base, moving right, ducking left -- he never looked comfortable. At the last second, he reached backward and missed the ball. It never touched his glove. Then, in the bottom of the first, Rodriguez came to bat with Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu aboard, but he struck out swinging.
The fans booed.
"I kind of started like a moron there, felt really goofy about it," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez's fortunes changed in the eighth inning.
With Abreu on base, Rodriguez smacked a two-run homer to left-center field into the Yankees bullpen. The drive put the Yankees up, 9-5, capping the scoring for the afternoon as closer Mariano Rivera struck out the side in the ninth.
Rodriguez said that the crucial at-bat in the eighth was Abreu's single between third base and shortstop. After that hit, Rodriguez went to the plate thinking single.
"I was actually trying to do the same thing [Abreu] did and got fortunate with a home run," he said.
Rodriguez said that his single to left and stolen base in the seventh felt just as gratifying as his four-bagger. He stole second on his own, trying to get something started for the Yankees.
Having totaled 15 stolen bases last season, Rodriguez said that he wants to steal more in 2007. And since opposing catchers threw him out only four times last year, Rodriguez would seem to have promising chances of swiping a few more bags.
"I enjoy that part of the game," he said. "I don't like to do it just to do it. I like to do it to help win a game."
"We're trying to establish little baseball. To beat good pitching, you have to do the little things. That's why I was so excited about Jeter's hit, and Bobby Abreu's hit, and then [Jason] Giambi's hit. The home run is icing on the cake, but small ball is what we're looking for."
After hitting his home run, Rodriguez circled the bases and the crowd erupted. The cheers continued as he went into the dugout, and Rodriguez then answered a brief curtain call, taking a few steps up from the dugout and waving his helmet.
Redemption came to Rodriguez on the outer half of the plate, a pitch from Devil Rays right-hander Juan Salas that caught too much of the strike zone.
"It changed so much in five at-bats, like the stock market," said Rodriguez, who finished the afternoon 2-for-5 with two RBIs. "But I'll tell you what, the curtain call made me feel really good. You just build from the positive."
Despite what he described as a "pretty embarrassing" play and a "very slow" start, Rodriguez came away from his Opening Day performance smiling.
"That's one of the great things about this game. You can go from zero to hero in a heartbeat," Giambi said.
And judging from the fans, Rodriguez will stay that way -- at least until Wednesday afternoon, when the Yankees take on the Rays in Game 2 of the three-game series.
Caleb Breakey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.