Friday night was a blur for Alex Rodriguez. A first-inning homer that marked his 3,000th hit. The toast over a $6,500 bottle of champagne that ensued. And the celebration continued to flow Saturday.
With two outs in the third inning Saturday night, Rodriguez belted a 1-and-1 fastball into the leftfield stands for a three-run homer that gave the Yankees an 8-0 lead in their 14-3 victory over the Tigers. It was his third, fourth and fifth RBI of the game.
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As he trotted around the bases, the Stadium crowd continued to leave Rodriguez with a feeling he couldn't have imagined at this time last year.
"There were some really dark days," Rodriguez said before the game. "I'm just fortunate and grateful, and really having a good time this year."
The 6-liter Armand de Brignac Brut Gold -- more commonly known as "Ace of Spades" after its logo -- still sat perched atop a table in the middle of the Yankees' clubhouse, awaiting signatures from each member of the team. As the lavish gold bottle began to pass from player to player, it became a tangible representation of how the Yankees have rallied around Rodriguez despite the controversy that always seems to shadow him.
"We had a toast to Alex for what he's accomplished," manager Joe Girardi said. "He gave a little speech and, as I said [Friday night], guys appreciate him. The way he goes about his business, how hard he's worked to get back and how he's contributed and how important he's been in the clubhouse. Seeing what he went through and having to get back up. It was neat to be a part of it."
But Girardi's involvement through the entire saga has been more than just neat for Rodriguez. It's been pivotal.
Even during the darkest portions of his season-long ban from the sport last year for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, Rodriguez said he was buoyed by Girardi's support.
"I got to tell you, I'm really grateful for Joe Girardi," Rodriguez said Friday night. "Probably about a year ago, we had a great conversation, and again another one in spring training. He is our leader, he sets the tone for us. For me personally, he's been a mentor, someone we look up to, and he's given me the opportunity to succeed. And he gave me some great advice that I took to heart, both in my offseason workouts and my in-season workouts, and they've been very helpful."
Aside from the baseball advice, part of the conversation they had last year, Girardi recalled, revolved around a comforting notion that Rodriguez still was with the team in spirit. He also said that with time, there would be some degree of forgiveness from Yankees fans.
"I don't remember the exact conversation," Girardi said, "but I tried to keep up with what he was doing. Telling him time is going to pass and he's going to be back and be ready to go and that sort of thing. And expectations I had for him.
"I can't really imagine sitting out two years like he has been and being able to come back and be as productive . . . He's done it. I really believe a lot of it is his work ethic. A lot of it is he's very mechanically sound. I just wanted him to know that he was still on our radar. We didn't have him last year, but he was still part of us."