MINNEAPOLIS -- A year that began with Alex Rodriguez being told that he must compete for his roster spot has seen him again become one of the most feared sluggers in the sport. In this improbable comeback story, the Yankees have learned to anticipate the unexpected.
Rodriguez rescued his team with the fifth three-homer game of his career on Saturday night, including a game-tying drive in the ninth inning off closer Glen Perkins, as the Yankees rallied for an 8-5 victory over the Twins. And after the first two homers, they actually expected a third.
"I knew that was coming," said Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia. "I watched him watch the video [in the clubhouse] and kind of knew he was swinging at the first pitch. And he hit it out."
Two days shy of his 40th birthday, Rodriguez now has 23 homers -- his most in a season since 2010, when he hit 30 -- and is showing no signs of slowing. Rodriguez believes that manager Joe Girardi's decision to use him almost exclusively as a designated hitter has kept him fresh, allowing the part-time corner infielder to forget about the digits on his birth certificate.
"I think DH makes me feel young sometimes; that was a great call Joe made," Rodriguez said. "It's just been good to be out there nightly and help my team win."
It is difficult to believe, but the Yankees' Opening Day lineup had Rodriguez batting seventh, and his presence there wasn't even assured; until a few weeks prior, the organization was still talking about having Rodriguez compete with Garrett Jones for at-bats as part of a DH platoon.
Rodriguez forced his way into the lineup's No. 3 spot while earning positive reviews in the clubhouse for his willingness to serve as a teacher. The question was posed in the manager's office on Saturday: How, after a turbulent 2013-14, is Rodriguez doing this?
"I think he works hard," Girardi said. "I see him in the weight room last night after the game, working hard. I think just DHing him has really lessened the toll on his body, the time that he's on his feet. It may not seem much, but it is when you're standing out in the hot sun and you're on your legs a lot. They tire a lot quicker. I think that DH has been a real positive experience for him and us."
The Yankees were held hitless by left-hander Tommy Milone until Rodriguez launched his first homer of the night, a fourth-inning solo shot that struck the facing of the upper deck in left field and was estimated at an eye-popping 480 feet by the Twins.
Rodriguez also clubbed a two-run homer in the seventh off Milone (estimated at 428 feet) as well as the line-drive laser to center field off Perkins in the ninth (estimated at 424 feet). It was the 62nd multihomer game of Rodriguez's career, and he offered some credit to hitting coach Jeff Pentland for the show.
"I felt good. I felt centered," Rodriguez said. "I had a really good session with Pent earlier today. I thought we figured out some good things."
Rodriguez became the fifth-oldest fifth player in Major League history to hit three homers in a game, behind Stan Musial (41 years, 229 days), Jason Giambi (40 years, 131 days), Reggie Jackson (40 years, 123 days) and Babe Ruth (40 years, 108 days). He has slugged three homers of 450 feet or longer this year and has hit eight homers since July 5, a span of 14 games. The Yankees came into the year with hardly any expectations for Rodriguez, citing his season-long layoff and two hip reconstructions, but they now believe that they can count on him for considerably more.
"It's been great -- he's been really engaged with the team and helping everybody out," Sabathia said. "It's no secret why we're so good. I think it's because of him."
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.