MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

With first homer, A-Rod makes presence felt

After a long layoff, veteran happy to round the bases in pinstripes again

With first homer, A-Rod makes presence felt

NEW YORK -- When a game passes what probably will be its midpoint, and it has yet to yield a usable news angle for those assigned to report about it, some denizen of the pressbox is bound to ask out loud, "Is there an story here?" And one of the grizzled veteran writers is bound to respond in hopes of reducing the angst among his colleagues, "It hasn't happened yet."

So it was in the breezy chill of Yankee Stadium on Thursday evening that the Blue Jays and the home team had reached the bottom of the sixth inning and produced little that would warrant a headline. The Jays had scored four times in the second inning against CC Sabathia on a series of singles that was not particularly compelling. The Yankees had scored once in the fifth, a run that was immediately offset by an unearned run in the next half inning.

Sabathia's less-than-adequate pitching wasn't much of an angle at that point. And that he had righted himself and worked effectively into the sixth was tantamount only to locking the cell door after the jailbreak. Then bang, Alex Rodriguez swung at a high fastball from Toronto starter Daniel Norris and an angle appeared as the baseball disappeared into the stands beyond left field. Gentlemen, fire up your laptops.

It was a shot, no back-of-the-wall scraper, that took A-Rod back to Seattle and Texas before it touched down in the same borough where it had been launched. Nothing like the supercharged bolt Edwin Encarnacion put off the top of the wall beyond the visitors' bullpen in left-center in the eighth -- that one was Mantle-esque. But Rodriguez's poke was, as they say, prodigious.

For the 655th time in his career Rodriguez had struck a blow good for four total bases and a warm reception -- a different sort of Bronx cheer. His first home run since Sept. 20, 2013, pleased him and made him a tad nostalgic.

"It's been a long time," Rodriguez said.

Later, A-Rod found humor in his time away from home run hitting: "I felt I needed a Google map to run the bases."

Rodriguez's home run moved his career total to within five of Willie Mays', but it pushed the Yanks only to within three runs of the Blue Jays. Yet it was received as if it had come in late September in a game of greater consequence and eliminated a deficit ... or as if the Captain or Bernie or Donnie had returned and done the deed. But this was Alex Rodriguez, No. 13, punctuating his return and bringing thousands to their feet.

The cheering Rodriguez prompted was passionate. But then the Yankees, as currently constituted, don't appear to be a group that elicits great passion otherwise. Who besides A-Rod can stir the masses? If and when he is again a target of jeers, they probably will be equally passionate. New York demands a focal point for its passion, a hero or the antithesis.

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So yes, the game that came to be identified as "Blue Jays 6, Yankees 3" became newsworthy after all. And not only because the designated hitter who batted second in Joe Girardi's revamped batting order had struck a mighty blow. Or because Mark Teixeira followed Rodriguez's home run with a mightier one.

By evening's end, the Yankees' display of power -- albeit bases-empty power -- and Sabathia's last four innings were identified as positives by the manager. And if Didi Gregorius was guilty of another baserunning misstep -- too wide a turn at first base after a single that drove home the Yanks' run in the fifth -- well, he's learning by his mistakes.

Sabathia's 180 was encouraging. He walked none and struck out eight. And some of the eight hits allowed were ground balls through holes. Girardi emphasized that several times and omitted the seed Josh Donaldson pulled to left.

"One big inning," the manager said. "Well-placed balls. If [Sabathia] is going to be hit that hard every time out, I'll take it."

But this Yankees team is severely challenged by a four-run deficit, even one that's in place with eight turns at bat remaining. And yes, A-Rod crushed a 92-mph fastball. But he couldn't catch up with a 94 and a 96 in the seventh when he struck out.

So yes, there is a story here. Of course, there is. But no angle can develop in three games. Can it?

Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.