NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez is sitting on 2,999 hits and next up is Justin Verlander and the Tigers on Friday night at Yankee Stadium. But whether A-Rod knocks out the big hit in the first inning, later in the game or the homestand, this is really a story about redemption, after all.
"I think our country has always been about that, giving people second chances, " said manager Joe Girardi after the Yankees defeated the Marlins, 9-4, and two singles by Rodriguez put him on the verge. "I would say that most people who walk into the stadium, most people who walk into this room have probably made mistakes in their lives. But that doesn't keep you from trying to be better as a person and better as a player."
A year ago, Rodriguez was under the cloud of a season-long suspension, plagued with self-doubt about whether he'd ever play again. And even if he did, would he still be able to compete?
Rodriguez has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's still able to play. Thus far this season, he's passed Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time homer list with 666, and amassed 2,000 RBIs -- right now sitting at 2,003.
And when he grasps another brass ring and knocks out the big hit -- which can be seen on MLB Network's Showcase game at 7 p.m. ET, during which his swings will be measured by Statcast™ -- he'll become the 29th player in baseball history to reach 3,000 and only the second while wearing a Yankees uniform. Just think about that.
Yankees fans certainly have. The tumult in the big ballpark began after a fifth-inning single moved Rodriguez to 2,999 and reached its apex in the eighth inning as Marlins reliever Sam Dyson threw four inside pitches and walked him. That meant it was over for the night. In an impromptu show of affection and excitement, the 38,239 assembled clamored on every pitch.
After the walk, the cheers turned to surly chants, but after all, this is the Bronx. As A-Rod stood on first, he said he was able to just drink it all in.
"I don't even know how to describe it. It feels great," Rodriguez said. "Every time these moments happen I can just reflect on a year ago today and how great the fans have been to me. I actually think their support has helped me play a lot better."
The fact is that Rodriguez has made peace with Major League Baseball, and the sport has done the same with him. His day began on Friday across 161st Street on the collection of ballfields where the original Yankee Stadium once stood.
Rodriguez and a bevy of Yankees and Marlins players joined Commissioner Rob Manfred on the site of what's now called Heritage Field to launch the "Play Ball" initiative. This is another fine Major League program that encourages fans of all ages to partake in baseball activities, particularly kids.
Rodriguez was pleased to have been invited by former player and MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds on behalf of the Commissioner's Office and played catch with a group of local children.
"It was a great afternoon," Rodriguez said after the game. "It's a great initiative the Commissioner's Office is really passionate about. Youth baseball is something I'm extremely passionate about. I owe my whole career to the Boys & Girls Club, so I understand the power of captivating kids at a very early age to start learning the game of baseball, and today was a very good day."
In another example of how well this season has gone for Rodriguez, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced on Thursday that it is putting the bat A-Rod used to drive in his 2,000th run on display in the museum at Cooperstown, N.Y. Redemption in baby steps.
Back at the Stadium, Rodriguez continued his two-game show against the Marlins. Returning fresh from basically sitting out two games sans the designated hitter in Miami, Rodriguez was five hits away from the magical 3,000 mark. He's been on base seven of the nine times he's hit and had four singles.
Coming up to bat in the sixth with his initial chance to get to 3,000, he lined the first pitch to right field off left-handed reliever Mike Dunn and for a split-second it seemed like that might be it.
"I thought it had a chance, but then it settled right into [Giancarlo] Stanton's glove," A-Rod said.
During that eighth-inning at-bat, he had no chance.
"I was hoping he'd get it out of the way, but we'll have to wait another day and see what happens," Girardi said. "I think the crowd wanted to see it. I think that's the bottom line, and I understand that. I think the young man [Dyson] was trying to get him out. He just threw a bunch of sinkers that were too far inside and Alex couldn't even swing. He didn't have much of a chance that last at-bat, but he'll have another opportunity tomorrow."
In all of the club's glorious history, only one player has ever banged out his 3,000th hit while playing for the Yankees. Derek Jeter did it against the Rays with a homer right here on July 11, 2011. Jeter finished last season and retired with 3,465 hits, all of them for the Yankees. Rodriguez has had 1,464 of his hits for the Yanks and is not even in the top 20 among pinstripes in that department.
But there was a time not too long ago when even Rodriguez wondered whether he'd ever be able to add to that number.
"The whole experience has been very humbling," he said. "I'm obviously grateful to a lot of people. Obviously, the Commissioner's Office and the fans and my teammates have been incredible."