Alex Rodriguez drew one step closer.
A step closer to fourth on the all-time home run list -- and a step closer to a possible showdown with the Yankees in front of an arbitrator.
Rodriguez, who entered Sunday night in his worst slump of the season, hit career homer No. 659 in the first inning, driving a 2-and-2 curveball from Mets lefthander Jonathon Niese off the top of the right-centerfield wall and into the Yankees' bullpen.
It was the fifth homer of the season for Rodriguez, 39, who entered the game in a 3-for-24 skid, and pulled him within one of Willie Mays for fourth on the career home run list.
"I've said it a lot, Willie was my father's favorite player," Rodriguez said. "I just remember hearing about Willie Mays . . . He's one of my heroes. So I'm excited about the win today, I'm excited about the home run."
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Tying Mays, according to his contract, would trigger the first of a handful of $6-million homer bonuses. But the Yankees made it clear in a meeting with Rodriguez in February that they plan to withhold that bonus and any others. From their perspective, all of those achievements are tainted by his PED use and are not marketable milestones.
They have repeated that intent since then, although not publicly, perhaps the reason for A-Rod's response to a question Sunday night about how he thinks the club might mark 660 if it occurs at the Stadium.
"I don't have a marketing degree," he said, punctuating the line with a smile. "So I'm just focusing on playing baseball."
Rodriguez, whose homer drew the Yankees within 2-1, had several more chances to tie Mays. He said he felt a "buzz" from the sellout crowd each time he stepped to the plate.
"Yeah, there's no question about it," said A-Rod, whose homer was his first since he hit two against the Rays in St. Petersburg on April 17. "The buzz was incredible. I just felt a lot of energy in the building. And it was fun. We have the greatest fans in the world. To feel that energy, it was pretty cool."
But the celebration, at least from the fans' perspective, would have to wait.
With the Yankees already having scored three times in their four-run second inning, Rodriguez doubled down the leftfield line with two outs. Mets leftfielder Michael Cuddyer spiked his throw into the infield for an error that allowed Chris Young to give the Yankees a 5-2 lead. Young touched the plate a split-second before Rodriguez, trying for third on the play, was tagged out to end the inning.
A-Rod drove in Brett Gardner by bouncing into a forceout in the fifth, giving him his second RBI of the game and 13th of the season, and lined out to left to end the seventh.
Rodriguez said he didn't feel awful about the 3-for-24 stretch because it included a good amount of walks (nine).
"I've been drawing my walks and I've been seeing a lot of pitches," he said. "To me, that's always a good sign. Staying away from long big slumps is getting on base and trying to keep the line moving. Even though I wasn't getting my hits, I felt OK."