David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
TORONTO - Alex Rodriguez can't shut down all the noise. At Rogers Centre, just like everywhere else he has visited so far, the boos increased in volume Tuesday night with each step from the on-deck circle to the batter's box.
The noise is angry. One young boy within earshot of the press box screamed to J.A. Happ, "Hit him in the head!"
He probably wasn't alone. Rodriguez has turned each of these games into a blood sport for fans, transforming the stadiums into modern-day Roman coliseums. The Yankees have always attracted the haters, but not like this.
Somehow, Rodriguez ignores the noise. Or does a great job faking it. All the Yankees really care about now is how dangerous A-Rod can be at the plate while hearing it, and 20 games into his return, they're getting the answer.
Maybe the Yankees didn't really need another home run from Rodriguez, his second in two nights, to roll past the Blue Jays, 7-1. But it sure was nice to know they can get it, and A-Rod crushed a no-doubter off reliever Esmil Rogers with two outs in the seventh inning.
That's four homers since coming back Aug. 5, and it's not as if he's hitting wall-scrapers. That Sunday night at Fenway Park, exacting his revenge against Ryan Dempster, A-Rod launched one over the centerfield wall, a dozen rows deep.
Rodriguez drilled a similar blast Tuesday night, reaching the seats in left-center with a home run that traveled approximately 410 feet, and probably more. That sort of power shows, in the baseball vernacular, that Rodriguez's hips are "firing" and the base of his swing is strong. It also indicates that the noise isn't an issue.
"It's good to see," Joe Girardi said. "He's impacting the baseball. That's what we wanted to see and that's what we talked about when he came back."
What A-Rod chooses not to talk about could be helping, as well. A week ago, just as his legal defense team said it was preparing a response to the MLB "gotcha" letter delivered on live TV by Matt Lauer, Rodriguez held a news conference in front of the Yankees dugout and said he was "shutting down" all of the non-baseball chatter.
From his attack-dog attorney, Joe Tacopina, to every other member of the A-Rod camp, Rodriguez personally called a cease-fire. And if any reporters tried to take the discussion in that direction, A-Rod promised to immediately shut him or her down, too.
So far, it's worked. The media sniping has stopped, and Rodriguez has avoided being drawn into the crossfire stirred up by his 211-game suspension. As for the on-field effect, that's been difficult to pin down.
"I think it's important," Rodriguez said. "We need 100 percent of our focus and work ethic on the game of baseball."
For the other 24 guys, that hasn't been much of a problem. Other than the crowded visitors clubhouse at Fenway, the rest of the Yankees haven't been too inconvenienced, especially since A-Rod's mandate. As for Rodriguez himself, he's been a bit more reclusive, but he did speak twice yesterday, before the game about Monday's homer and afterward about No. 651.
For those keeping score, that puts A-Rod only nine away from tying Willie Mays, and collecting a $6-million bonus from the Yankees for doing so. At this rate, with the way Rodriguez is swinging the bat, we're talking about something that could very likely happen before the end of this season and well before arbitrator Fredric Horowitz reaches a decision on his suspension.
Rodriguez claims Mays isn't on his mind. That's hard to believe.
"I'm still so far away from that," Rodriguez said. "We need these wins like oxygen. One thing this team is going to do for sure is we're going to leave it all out there on the field for the next 31 days."
And A-Rod will be out there hearing the noise, over and over, every day for the duration. Nothing he can say will stop that.