It’s difficult to remember a more definitive “eff you” swing for a Major League Baseball player than Alex Rodriguez’s first-inning three-run homer Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles. His last at-bat before then resulted in an RBI single in the ninth inning of a meaningless 6–2 win over the Red Sox on September 28, 2008, in the first game of a doubleheader. A lot has happened since then. There’s a little bit more drama behind each swing now.
Whatever your thoughts on steroids, pitch tipping, and Selena Roberts, it was difficult not to be inspired by A-Rod’s hit off Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie. (Also a little surprising: The somewhat mixed reception — as opposed to full-throated booing — A-Rod received from the Camden Yards crowd. Then again, there tend to be nearly as many Yankees fans as Orioles fans there these days.) A-Rod is one of the best baseball players in history, steroids or no. This was as rousing a reintroduction as possible, and a glimpse into how much the Yankees needed him: They would score only one more run the rest of the game.
Even though he’s better off than he was before his surgery and rehab, A-Rod’s not completely healthy: He’ll need another surgery after the season. He went one-for-ten the rest of the weekend. He’ll be a dramatic improvement on Cody Ransom and Ramiro Pena, but expecting him to be the vintage, peak A-Rod, particularly this early, is folly.
Still, things are looking up for the Yankees. CC Sabathia threw his first shutout Friday night, Johnny Damon hit a dramatic homer in the seventh inning yesterday, and the Yankees are back within one game of .500. The rotation is showing signs of clicking into place (though Phil Hughes’s recent struggles have been somewhat alarming), and they have three games this week in Toronto to take a bite out of the Blue Jays’ early division lead. One thing now seems certain: When A-Rod steps to the plate against Minnesota on Friday for his first at-bat at the new Yankee Stadium, he will be greeted with far more cheering than booing.