A day that could have started awkwardly for Alex Rodriguez, with talk of steroids and disappointment, instead ended with the focus mostly where A-Rod probably wants it:
On the field.
In his fifth game of the season, Rodriguez hit his first 2013 home run and drove in another run with a single as the Yankees beat the Tigers, 5-4, before 42,439 at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.
"Today was a good day all around,'' Rodriguez said. "I felt pretty good. I had a couple days like this, but in Trenton and Scranton. They don't count as much.''
Rodriguez's towering home run to left off Justin Verlander leading off the second inning turned what had been mostly boos to nothing but cheers. A-Rod clapped his hands while rounding first base after hitting his first home run since Sept. 14. It was the 648th of his career, fifth on baseball's all-time list and 12 short of Willie Mays (and a $6-million contract bonus if Rodriguez gets to 660 and ties Mays).
"The fans have been incredible,'' Rodriguez said. "You want to turn boos into cheers. You want to go out and make them proud. All you want is really an opportunity and a chance, and I think New York always gives you that.''
There were the usual off-field issues for Rodriguez, too. For the fourth consecutive year, the Yankees hosted an anti-steroids benefit for the Taylor Hooton Foundation; a pregame on-field presentation and public address announcement about the fight against performance-enhancing drug use in young people was a bit of an awkward moment.
The foundation and its founder, Don Hooton, cut ties with Rodriguez after he was suspended for 211 games by Major League Baseball for an alleged association with the shuttered anti-aging clinic Biogenesis last Monday. Rodriguez is playing while he appeals the suspension.
Rodriguez, who went 2-for-4, is 5-for-19 (.263) since returning from offseason hip surgery and a quadriceps strain. He came back the same day his suspension was announced.
Rodriguez's home run was his first extra-base hit and first RBI of the season. It came on a 92-mph fastball from Verlander, the 2011 Cy Young Award winner and AL MVP.
"It felt good,'' Rodriguez said. "Good to get that first one out of the way. We needed this win today. We needed to win a series against a very good team and a great pitcher.''
A-Rod is 10-for-28 (.357) with four home runs against Verlander in the regular season. That includes a third-inning RBI single that surprised even Rodriguez.
The Yankees were leading 2-1 on the strength of A-Rod's home run and Eduardo Nuñez's sacrifice fly (also in the second inning) when Robinson Cano doubled with two outs in the third.
Rodriguez then lined a 98-mph fastball inside the first-base line to make it 3-1, but he didn't know where the ball had gone. He didn't run immediately, and before he left the batter's box, he even looked up to the area behind him and to his right as if he had fouled it back.
"I actually thought I fouled it off to the upper deck,'' Rodriguez said. "I did that probably seven, eight years ago against Wakefield.''
Rodriguez, who had a day off Saturday, also was tested at third base. "Too much test,'' he said with a laugh.
He started an inning-ending 5-5-3 double play to get Andy Pettitte out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning. He booted a slow roller in the third for his first error of the season but made a nice play coming in to throw out Hernan Perez leading off the fourth.
In the eighth, Rodriguez ranged far to his right to field Austin Jackson's grounder and got a forceout at second base with an accurate off-balance throw (though replays showed Jose Iglesias actually was safe).