David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Alex Rodriguez knew that Wednesday's three-run homer propelled him past Lou Gehrig for the American League RBI record, as well as put him in third place on the all-time list behind Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.
A-Rod also was aware that he needs only 19 hits to reach 3,000 -- a significant milestone by anyone's accounting methods.
But what we didn't expect from Rodriguez during another one of his cheery postgame chats was a hat tip to Hal Steinbrenner, who last week praised A-Rod's comeback efforts.DataA-Rod's career home runs
Rodriguez brought up Steinbrenner's comments unsolicited -- suggesting that he may spend as much time examining the media clips as he does poring over scouting reports. It doesn't feel all that long ago that Rodriguez was engaged in open warfare with Yankees' upper management. And there remains a potential dispute looming over the $6-million payment triggered by homer No. 660.
If Rodriguez has learned anything, however, it's not to sweat the small stuff. And yes, $6 million is relatively small for a guy that's already banked close to $390 million. The crucial thing for Rodriguez is to stay on the field, with a clear head and smooth swing.
"I'll take this chance to say I'm extremely grateful for the comments from Hal Steinbrenner about me," Rodriguez said. "It certainly made me feel a lot more welcome, and I wouldn't be here breaking these records if he didn't give me a chance to play on his team."
When A-Rod was on the brink of returning from his yearlong suspension, he had a sit-down with Steinbrenner, who said the two came to an understanding on calling a truce from this season forward. So far, there hasn't been much of a ripple, even after Brian Cashman, standing on the Fenway Park turf, said the team was not obligated to pay Rodriguez a dime for tying Willie Mays. A-Rod has refused to fight that battle in public; he has until the end of the month to file an appeal.
But maybe by keeping his focus on the field rather than a courtroom, it has enabled Rodriguez to defy the skeptics. That peace of mind has allowed Rodriguez to turn back the clock to better days, when no one had heard of Biogenesis.
"It's been a long time," Rodriguez said. "I haven't played a lot of baseball in the last two years, but I feel like I'm in a good place. I'm happy. I'm having fun."
Compared to living in exile in Miami, hitting third for the Yankees is heaven for A-Rod, and the reconciliation has been mutually beneficial. With two hits, his batting average is up to .276, to go along with a team-high .374 on-base percentage, 11 home runs and 26 RBIs. The games seem easier for Rodriguez now, and it's not just about having the year off to recuperate physically.
"I think he got by all the things he had to get by," Joe Girardi said. "But the one place Alex has always been comfortable is on the field and in the clubhouse. Alex might even take longer than Bernie [Williams] to retire because he's probably always going to want to play. He loves it."
You still won't hear the word "milestones" come out of the Yankees' mouths, but these next rungs on baseball's historical ladder don't have the additional stress of dollar figures attached to them. That doesn't mean the Yankees will be throwing parties for A-Rod -- passing Gehrig wasn't acknowledged on the scoreboard. But the two seem content to peacefully coexist.
Rodriguez smiled at the notion of being third in the recent All-Star balloting for DH, an indication of how far he's come.
"I'm so grateful for the way the fans have treated me everywhere, especially in New York, walking around the city," Rodriguez said. "But Nelson Cruz is a great hitter. That's a very smart choice by the fans."
What's more impressive? Toppling Gehrig or winning the hearts and minds of a judgmental baseball public? One down, and a few million more to go.