NEW YORK -- The milestone would have to wait for one more night, as Alex Rodriguez flipped his bat aside and accepted an eighth-inning free pass, but the slugger cracked a small smile as he trotted up the baseline. Even after everything that has transpired, the Yankee Stadium crowd seemed to be completely in his corner.
All year, Rodriguez has enjoyed rolling the clock back 365 days and marveling at how far he has come, and he was handed another opportunity on Thursday. Rodriguez now stands just one hit shy of joining the 3,000-hit club, having gone 2-for-4 in the Yankees' 9-4 victory over the Marlins.
"I don't even know how to describe it. It feels great," Rodriguez said. "Every time moments like that happen, I can just reflect on a year ago today, how great the fans have been to me. I think their support has actually helped me play a lot better."
Positioned to become the 29th player in Major League history to reach the mark, Rodriguez knocked a first-inning RBI single to center field off Mat Latos and then stroked a single to left field facing Latos in the fifth inning.
He had two opportunities for the round number, but lined out hard to right field on the first pitch he saw from Mike Dunn in the sixth inning and then dodged four inside pitches from Sam Dyson in the eighth inning.
"I think the crowd wanted to see it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I'm sure the young man was trying to get him out, he just threw a bunch of sinkers that were too far inside, and Alex couldn't even swing at them."
The walk from Dyson prompted vociferous boos from the crowd of 38,239 -- many of whom streamed for the exits after Rodriguez's walk. Rodriguez came around to score as the Yanks tacked on four runs in the inning. Dyson said that the 3,000th hit did not enter his mind.
"If he was going to beat me, he was going to have to get the [bat] head out," Dyson said. "I ended up throwing four balls kind of at his belt off the plate. ... I was just trying to get him out."
Asked if he thought Dyson was trying to send a message, Rodriguez replied, "I don't think so. You'd have to ask him. In a 5-3 game, the game is there for the taking. He's trying to make pitches, trying to get me out. I'm trying to get a base hit."
Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia seemed unconvinced, noting: "He made a good pitch the first pitch to Tex (Mark Teixeira), so I don't know what happened that Alex at-bat."
Rodriguez's next opportunity will come Friday against Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander, against whom Rodriguez is 10-for-28 (.357) with four homers and nine RBIs during the regular season. Fans can watch Rodriguez go for 3,000 hits on MLB Network's Showcase game at 7 p.m. ET, during which his swings will be measured by Statcast™.
"He's top of his class," Rodriguez said. "Verlander has been as good as it gets for a long time. He's going to be on his A-game, and the goal for us doesn't change. We have to come out and continue to win games."
Whenever the next hit does come, Rodriguez is set to become the first player to reach 3,000 hits since his former teammate, Derek Jeter, did it in July 2011. To date, Jeter is the only player to reach the 3,000-hit mark in a Yankees uniform.
Compared to the celebration for Jeter's chase, there seemed to be noticeably less buildup for Rodriguez's pursuit. That was due, no doubt, to the season-long suspension for performance-enhancing drug use that cost Rodriguez all of the 2014 season.
The standing ovations prior to his at-bats, as well as the fan reaction during and following Dyson's four-pitch walk, suggest that there has been forgiveness.
"I'm just grateful," Rodriguez said. "The fans cheering for me, what happened in Miami a few days ago, those are moments that I'll cherish forever and never forget. I'm so grateful for the fans. Girardi has done a great job of managing me, and my teammates have been great, as well."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.