ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Alex Rodriguez called it "another step forward."
Back in the Yankees' lineup for the first time since he suffered a left fifth metacarpal fracture when hit by a pitch from Felix Hernandez on July 24, A-Rod went 1-for-4 with a run in Monday's 4-3 loss to the Rays.
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"The timing was good," he said before crediting the Rays' James Shields: "He threw the ball pretty well, as he does all the time."
Leading off the second, Rodriguez swung at the first pitch he saw and popped to short. His next time up, in a three-run fourth, he hit a soft broken-bat liner up the middle that dribbled into centerfield and sent Robinson Cano to third. After Eric Chavez lined a sacrifice fly, A-Rod scored from first on a triple by Raul Ibañez, who scored on Russell Martin's infield hit.
A-Rod, who was in a 15-for-43 (.349) stretch when he was hit in the hand, grounded out in the sixth and struck out against Fernando Rodney in the ninth. "He gave me two good pitches to hit, I fouled them back," Rodriguez said. "The rest is history."
Of the day, he said: "Overall, I felt good. It's a process. Today was a step forward. I saw the ball well, the hand felt good and I liked the intensity the team played with today."
But it's a team that is hitting .185 in its last seven games and .214 in its last 13; the Yankees have averaged 3.3 runs per game during their 4-9 slump. A-Rod, who entered the game hitting .276 with 15 homers and 44 RBIs, has been viewed by some as a savior. But he said, "I'm not here to save the day. I'm just here to be a part of a winning team."
Speaking of his spot in the order and the expectations to produce, A-Rod did allow: "That's what I'm here to do. I hit cleanup for a reason and they expect me to do what I do. Be productive and help this team win."
Two hours before the game, he made his way through the clubhouse shaking hands and exchanging hugs. "It's definitely exciting. I'm thrilled to be back," he said. "You get the game taken away from you for five weeks, you do feel like a little kid coming back.''
Rodriguez said a sense of panic hasn't permeated the clubhouse. "Nobody's panicking," he said. "We've done this a long time. The important thing for us is we have to focus. Number one, we have to worry about winning series, and number two is doing the little things. If we focus on these things, this team's going to be fine."