05/09/09 12:00 AM ET
A-Rod's first swing back a homer
Third baseman crushes three-run shot off first pitch seen
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
The three-time AL Most Valuable Player made solid contact on his first big league swing of the season, belting a three-run home run off Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie on Friday at Camden Yards.
The drive left the stadium in an instant, traveling an estimated 374 feet into the left-center-field seats. It also provided an early lead for Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, who carried it the rest of the way with a four-hit shutout.
"It was a dream," Rodriguez said. "Two months has been a long time. I've been watching a lot of baseball and getting very frustrated. I feel like I'm back with my family now, where I belong."
The game marked Rodriguez's return from right hip surgery performed on March 9 in Vail, Colo., repairing a torn labrum and costing him 28 team games, leaving him rehabbing in Tampa, Fla., while the Yankees opened the season 13-15.
Rodriguez finished the Yankees' 4-0 victory 1-for-4 with two strikeouts, but his ability to turn on Guthrie's tough 97 mph fastball was an extremely good sign.
"For the last two months, I was helpless on that pitch," Rodriguez said. "In Spring Training, I could barely hit my coaches in BP. Anytime you hit a fastball in the mid-90s in that location, it's encouraging."
Rodriguez said his intent was to rip if he saw anything he liked.
"I wanted to come out swinging, being assertive in the strike zone," "I knew that if I got a pitch I could handle, I'd put a good swing on it."
When Rodriguez connected, the Yankees' bench went off -- and with good reason. It was the first time the scuffling Bombers had held a lead since the fifth inning on Saturday against the Angels in New York.
"Amazing, perfect, storybook, awesome," Nick Swisher said. "That was huge. I think he really set the tone for us early. Who would have thought that would happen? I mean, think about that -- as soon as he hit it, it was like a ray of light."
"You should have seen our dugout," Sabathia said. "Everybody was excited. That dugout was pumped up."
"For Alex, that's a great way to start and kind of an ice breaker right away," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's a hard guy to replace."
Indeed. The Yankees were all too happy to welcome Rodriguez back to their lineup; the home run was the first by a Yankees third baseman this season.
Patching the hole at third base did not work out ideally -- Cody Ransom was New York's Opening Day starter, but batted just .180 before being lost to injury, and neither Angel Berroa nor Ramiro Pena were able to provide power.
It wasn't an extreme stretch to think that a player with Rodriguez's credentials might do better.
"It's impressive, but you kind of expect it," Sabathia said. "He's the best player in the game. He hadn't seen a pitch all year, so to come up first pitch ... to go deep is unbelievable, but it's not surprising."
Rodriguez had hit three home runs in 44 overall rehab plate appearances while working out in extended spring training in Tampa, and while he said it will take six to nine games to find out how close he is to having his timing up to big league snuff, the early returns looked OK.
"I just think it tells you how good he is," Girardi said. "He's been a great player for a long time. I think he'll continue to be a great player for a long time. It also shows you how hard he worked to get back earlier than expected."
Rodriguez did not give himself rave reviews defensively, though he handled three chances and threw to first base without difficulty. The one ball Rodriguez thought he should have gotten to was a base hit by Adam Jones in the first inning that he dove for, and Rodriguez admitted he is "a step slow" and the ball should have been flagged.
"I feel mended," Rodriguez said. "It's going to take a while to get back to where I need to be, but I feel good."
With input from Dr. Marc Philippon and Dr. Mark Lindsay, the original estimate to have Rodriguez back had been set at May 15. But Rodriguez steamed through his rehab process with no setbacks and told associates he intended to beat that conservative date.
On the date of the surgery, Rodriguez's accelerated program had him on a stationary bicycle under Philippon's care, beginning a laborious routine that included great amounts of strength work underwater until he was able to hit a baseball field on April 13.
Rodriguez has pointed to the time in snowy Colorado as what may be a turning point for him personally, intending to return to what he calls his "2007 plan" of blocking out distractions and focusing 100 percent on baseball and the Yankees. For one night, it appears to be working.
"I've been in this situation a lot before," Rodriguez said. "I feel confident I'm going to come out and do well. I also feel confident that this team is going to play well from now on."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.