David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The most suspenseful part of Alex Rodriguez's stretch run for 3,000 hits didn't involve any of his plate appearances Wednesday night. No, that came in the fifth inning, when A-Rod chugged for home on Carlos Beltran's two-out single to centerfield.
Rodriguez, only a few weeks from turning 40, looks every minute of his age when running the bases, and the fear on this particular play was A-Rod possibly damaging himself -- and derailing his pursuit of history.
Well, A-Rod was tagged out easily on the feet-first slide. The good news? He survived, and stood up on his own, without even pausing to catch his breath. Crisis averted. Joe Girardi did the equivalent of packing A-Rod in Bubble Wrap by sitting him for two days in Miami and to see him get dinged up so close to 3,000 would have been painful to watch. Instead, he stayed intact for what should be a monumental few days on tap.
"I felt like my body was charged up," Rodriguez said afterward, "and I had some good energy."
So here we are, standing on the verge of yet another, um, milestone for Rodriguez, who could be joining the 3K club as early as Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. Rodriguez is at 2,997 after two hits in Wednesday's 2-1 win over the Marlins, a two-out, RBI-single in the first inning and another bloop shot in the fifth that set up his failed dash for the plate.
Now that we've had plenty of time to chew on this whole A-Rod conundrum, how are you going to react Thursday or Friday or Saturday, when Rodriguez finally gets there? The longest he's gone without a hit this season is three games -- only once -- and we haven't checked StubHub yet to see how A-Rod's marketability is affecting ticket prices in the coming days.
The anticipation is building, however. And for all the early talk about A-Rod not being much of a fan favorite off his Biogenesis suspension, we're hearing plenty of applause when he steps into the batter's box lately. Followed by even more when Rodriguez climbs another rung on the 3,000-hit ladder. He's still jeered everywhere outside the Bronx, except for Miami, but we're interested to see to what lengths the Yankee Stadium crowd will go to honor the achievement.
If A-Rod homers for No. 3,000 -- as Derek Jeter did -- do his teammates mob him at home plate like they did for the captain? If it's a base hit, will the game be stopped, the bag pulled out of the ground and handed to A-Rod to hold high above his head during a standing ovation?
Man, we hope so. Now that the pending tussle over this $6-millon payment for his 660th home run has been tabled until probably after the season, the Yankees haven't been quite as uptight about the 3,000-hit plateau. For one, there's no financial bonus attached. The team has been tweeting out his progress lately and is making no effort to ignore the accomplishment, as they did with his home-run pursuit.
"It's a ton of hits," Joe Girardi said. "I think about the guys that have gotten 3,000 hits, and it's really a pretty amazing club. Think about 15 years of 200 hits -- I mean, you see three hitters, maybe, a year get 200 hits in each league. Obviously you have to have longevity, but it shows real consistency.
"For him it's just another huge number that he's put up in his career. Whether it's home runs that people want to judge. Or RBIs that people want to judge. But 3000 hits, that's a lot of hits, and you don't see it every day."
We'll see it soon. Very soon. When asked Wednesday night if he was getting anxious about it -- as Jeter admitted during his 2011 chase -- Rodriguez shook his head.
"No, I'm having fun," he said. "I'm relaxed. I'm having a good time."
And in this case, we believe him. For everything Rodriguez has been through during the past few years -- a prison of his own making -- what's there to worry about now? The hits will come.
"I know my mom's excited about it," Rodriguez said. "She's watching every day and counting down. It will be an exciting day in the Rodriguez house for sure."
Should be a memorable night at Yankee Stadium, too.