If the Yankees do the improbable and storm their way into the playoffs, Alex Rodriguez's pinstriped legacy might get even more complicated.
The much-maligned Rodriguez provided the perfect wake-up call for his team's struggling offense Friday night, hitting a two-out grand slam in the seventh inning to send the Yankees to a 5-1 win over the San Francisco Giants.
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Rodriguez's 24th career grand slam, an opposite-field shot to rightfield, broke a tie with Lou Gehrig and gave him the major-league record.
"It's hard to think about things like that right now," Rodriguez said. "We're really in a sprint to the end here and every win is huge for us."
A-Rod came into the at-bat 1-for-25 and the Yankees entered the night with five losses in their last six games.
The Yankees, who have eight games left, are three games behind the Indians for the second wild-card spot. They nearly got some help from the Orioles, but the Rays beat Baltimore, 5-4, in 18 innings in a game that lasted 6:54 and ended after 2 a.m.
"I don't know we can afford to lose any more games, and that's the bottom line at this point," manager Joe Girardi said. "I look at every game from here on out as extremely, extremely important. We needed it."
A-Rod's slam came on a 2-and-1 pitch from former Yankees righthander George Kontos, who had just entered the game after Tim Lincecum walked Ichiro Suzuki to load the bases.
After the ball left Rodriguez's bat, he slowly made his way out of the batter's box, bat still in his extended left hand, looking as if he were willing the ball to leave the park. And that's what it did, falling several rows deep in the stands. "I saw where I was 1-for-24, 1-for-25, whatever it was, but I thought for the most part I was swinging the bat decently well, but that's baseball," said A-Rod, whose 654th homer moved him within six of fourth-place Willie Mays on the all-time list. "One swing can turn a lot of things around."
The Yankees sure hope so. They had scored nine runs in their previous five games. At the point that A-Rod homered, they had been held scoreless in 46 of the previous 53 innings.
The slam also provided major relief for CC Sabathia, who was in the midst of his best outing in nearly four months but was in danger of seeing it go for naught thanks to the struggling bats.
Sabathia (14-13) had been 4-6 with a 6.59 ERA in his previous 12 starts but came through with a line resembling his old self, allowing one run in seven innings. The last time he allowed only one run in an outing was May 31 against Boston. He allowed seven hits and three walks, striking out four. "We need to try to win out," he said. "Why couldn't we? Anything can happen. We got the guys in here. You saw what happened tonight."
David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth and Mariano Rivera retired the side in order in the ninth.
Lincecum (10-14), who allowed five hits and two walks, was charged with four runs in 62/3 innings, as Kontos allowed three inherited runners to score.
Alfonso Soriano opened the scoring by leading off the second inning with a home run, lining an 0-and-2 fastball from Lincecum just over the rightfield wall. It was his 16th homer since the Yankees traded for him in late July and 33rd overall.
But the one-run lead didn't last for long. Sabathia started the third by walking No. 9 hitter Brandon Crawford. After catcher J.R. Murphy picked up Joaquin Arias' tapper and tagged Arias out -- Crawford beat Murphy's subsequent throw to second -- Juan Perez lined a double to left-centerfield to tie it at 1-1.