ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Alex Rodriguez continues his march toward the milestone that shall not be named.
The 39-year-old hit two home runs Friday night, drawing within two of Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time list and edging closer to a possible head-to-head legal battle with his team. Then he added a fourth RBI, a tiebreaking single with two outs in the eighth inning that gave the Yankees a 5-4 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"Without Alex, we were going to lose that ballgame,'' Joe Girardi said quite accurately.
Rodriguez gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead with his first homer, a blast to left-center off Nathan Karns in the second inning. It went 471 feet, according to MLB Advanced Media, the longest home run in the majors in 2015.
His second came in the sixth, a two-run shot down the leftfield line off Ernesto Frieri that tied it at 4-4.
Is Rodriguez surprised by his start, which has him leading the Yankees in homers (four), RBIs (11), average (.344), on-base percentage (.432) and slugging (.781)? "Yeah, I am," he said. "I don't think anyone knew what to expect, including myself. I've been working hard and hopefully it keeps going."
Rodriguez snapped that 4-4 tie two innings later with a two-out single off Kevin Jepsen, who decided to give Rodriguez something to hit with a full-count curveball with a runner on second. Carlos Beltran led off the inning with a single and pinch runner Brett Gardner -- who did not start because of a sore right wrist -- stole second with two outs to set up A-Rod's liner into centerfield.
"Everybody's going to remember those homers. They were both incredibly well struck," said Andrew Miller, who pitched the final 11/3 innings and struck out three in the ninth to record his third save in as many chances. "But that at-bat to give us the go-ahead run was incredible. He fought pitches off, stayed on a breaking ball. We shouldn't be surprised. Alex knows how to hit."
The homers gave A-Rod 658 in his career, putting him within two of Mays. But the Yankees have made it clear to this point that they don't plan to pay him the $6-million bonus when and if he reaches that plateau, or any of the other $6-million homer bonuses in his contract. Their perspective: All of those achievements are tainted by his PED use, are not marketable milestones and won't be recognized.
"Not at all," he said of being distracted by the thought of a potential showdown with the Yankees regarding the bonus. "I try not to think about it. I'm just really focusing on trying to help the team win."
Gardner, aware of the surrounding noise regarding the issue, smiled when asked about any excitement in the clubhouse about 660. "I'd rather not talk about that. There's no point in getting into that," he said.
The first homer gave A-Rod 1,924 runs, sending him past Derek Jeter for sole possession of ninth in baseball history.
The Yankees got only four innings out of Adam Warren -- who allowed a three-run homer by Allan Dykstra and a solo shot by Logan Forsythe in a span of five pitches as the Rays took a 4-2 lead in the fourth -- but got terrific work from their bullpen. Esmil Rogers (21/3 innings), Justin Wilson (one-third) and Dellin Betances (one inning) set up Miller as the group shut out the Rays over the final five innings.
The only non-Rodriguez-produced run came courtesy of the 100th home run of Stephen Drew's career. It came in the fourth inning and made it 2-0.
What stood out most about a memorable night? "The win," A-Rod said. "We needed this one. Badly."