MOOSIC, Pa. - It was a vintage A-Rod moment.
Alex Rodriguez strode to the plate in the third inning, his at-bat soundtracked by a mixture of loud applause and loud-enough derisive comments from the PNC Field crowd.
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Ever the polarizing figure . . . even in a Triple-A rehab stint.
Then Rodriguez delivered.
He launched a 1-and-2 offering over the right-centerfield wall for a two-run homer and was showered with cheers.
"That felt good," said Rodriguez, who began Thursday night in what is expected to be a four-game assignment with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. "Any time I can get the ball up in the air, especially to centerfield and right-center, that's a good sign."
Rodriguez's first homer of the rehab stint, also a two-run shot, came Monday with Double-A Trenton. "I'm excited," he said, "but we can't get ahead of ourselves. I have to stay focused and stay in the moment."
Rodriguez admitted Thursday he doesn't think his surgically repaired hips will ever be pain-free but said he feels "pretty good" now and needed only to get through these final rehab games before he expects to return to the Yankees.
His want-to-do list for this weekend: Go first to third and finish with a "hard slide," and perhaps make a diving stop of a ground ball to his left. Neither happened, nor did he have any chances at third. But the homer was his consolation prize.
A-Rod, batting second, went 1-for-4. In his first at-bat, he swung at the first pitch and sent a high fly ball to the warning track in right. He struck out on a breaking ball with the bases loaded to end the fourth, and grounded out to first in the sixth. He left after the seventh of the RailRiders' 8-0 win over Louisville.
Michael Pineda, rehabbing from shoulder surgery, started and allowed three hits and struck out eight in 4 2/3 innings.
On Wednesday, Yankees GM Brian Cashman said that the hope is for Rodriguez to rejoin the Yankees on Monday when they begin a series against the Rangers in Texas.
If and when he returns to the majors -- and for how long he remains there -- doesn't depend entirely on the Yankees, though. The specter of a lengthy suspension from MLB continues to loom over Rodriguez, who was reportedly linked to Biogenesis, a Miami-based clinic that allegedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs to several players.
Players Association executive director Michael Weiner said Wednesday the union would not back players against whom MLB has considerable evidence of PED use, according to a Daily News report. "I can't comment on any of that stuff," Rodriguez said Thursday. "I've said that over and over again."
For now, Rodriguez, 37, insisted his focus is returning to the Yankees. He had surgery in January to repair a torn labrum in his left hip, four years after having an operation on his right hip. "Over the last three or four days, I've seen some things that I wanted to see," he said. "I started to drive the ball. My balance at the plate has started to improve quite a bit."
Rodriguez, who was 3-for-25 with 12 strikeouts and no RBIs during last year's playoffs, is only 14 home runs shy of surpassing Willie Mays' 660 and moving into fourth on the all-time list, which also would trigger a milestone bonus in his contract.
Still, he tempered long-term expectations of himself and his health going forward. "I don't have a crystal ball," he said. "I just know right now I feel pretty good . . . I just hope to go out and do the very best I can."