By hitting the homer in the first inning, Rodriguez accomplished a lot with one big swing. He finally got his milestone shot out of the way, eliminated the possibility that it would hang over the team heading into a big weekend series against the Red Sox and gave his team an early lead in the process.
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And make no mistake, this was a game the Yankees definitely believed they needed to win coming off three straight losses and four in their last five games. The last thing anyone inside the Yankees clubhouse wanted was to welcome the Red Sox to town while riding a four-game losing streak.
"I thought it was very important we won today," manager Joe Girardi said. "We hadn't won the last two series and that's frustrating for us. And going into the off day guys feel better. And obviously there's an important series coming up."
Phil Hughes allowed one run in 51/3 innings to improve to 13-4, and Girardi was most impressed with Hughes' ability to cope with the heat and humidity in addition to a head cold.
"I thought he battled really, really well," Girardi said. "I thought fighting the head cold and heat he got tired a little earlier than he normally would and I thought he gutted it out."
Hughes said he started feeling sick Tuesday night, but he didn't take any medicine because he was worried about the side effects, and it caught up to him midway through the game. He said he felt lightheaded during a long top of the fourth inning when he gave up a two-out RBI double to Lyle Overbay that cut the Yankees' lead to 3-1.
But with runners on second and third, Hughes recovered to strike out Edwin Encarnacion, getting the Blue Jays third baseman to swing through consecutive 93-mile-per-hour fastballs to end the inning.
Chamberlain pitched the seventh and Robertson threw the eighth, as has been the case lately, but Girardi said he is still going by matchups when deciding who to use as the bridge to Rivera.
Although this game will be remembered for Rodriguez's 600th home run, the importance of the victory wasn't lost on anyone in the clubhouse, beginning with the man of the day.
"It was a unique situation," Rodriguez said, "because we needed to win this game."
But now with that home run out of the way, Rodriguez and the Yankees can return their focus to the ultimate team goal, which is repeating as world champions. And with this milestone behind Rodriguez, the Yankees believe his struggles are, too.
"I know how much Al just wants to get back to baseball and winning games, and not be the talk," Girardi said.
Added Jeter, "I'm pretty sure this won't be the last one he hits. There's a lot of good things for him to come. He's got another 15 years on his deal, anyway."