David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The hang time on Alex Rodriguez's home run No. 661 lasted longer than the lightning-quick scoreboard tribute Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. Blink, and you would have missed the factoid telling us A-Rod had passed Willie Mays to stand alone in fourth place.
But yes, it did happen. Despite the brevity of a UFO sighting, the Yankees swallowed hard and acknowledged the historic moment, if only for a few fleeting seconds. Like some hiker scrambling to photograph a Sasquatch, we hurriedly reached for our camera phone to get a snapshot of the screen -- but the message vanished.
Like anything with A-Rod, it had to be seen to be believed, and we never thought the Yankees would give an inch in this "milestone'' tussle. The team didn't have to show the No. 661 or mention Mays. The scoreboard could have just stuck with the generic, spinning home-run logo it uses for every long ball.
Maybe the Yankees finally have realized how ridiculous they looked in pretending to ignore A-Rod's tainted climb up the all-time list. Or they are growing more confident he won't have a legitimate claim to his triggered home-run payments, which in the Yankees' view aren't "marketable'' and therefore void.
Either way, it seems the frosty relationship has thawed to a manageable temperature. That's the best they can hope for during this uneasy truce, and A-Rod has made it possible by delivering at the plate while acting like a model employee, a bravo performance the 39,816 fans rewarded Thursday night with a curtain call.
"When you're productive, you kind of re-earn their respect and they pull for you,'' Joe Girardi said. "That's the bottom line as players. Not just in our sport -- all sports.''
The Yankees also want that from Rodriguez, as long as it comes with no additional financial commitments. Over the weekend, after he drilled No. 660 to tie Mays and earn the first $6-million payment, Brian Cashman flatly said the Yankees had no intention of paying him.
It was the first time any team official did so on the record. When confronted with Cashman's comments Sunday, A-Rod brushed them off, calling the money tussle "family business.''
We'd say more Corleone than Brady Bunch, but at least Rodriguez feels less like Fredo these days. After his soaring homer landed in the vacant area to the left of Monument Park, the Stadium erupted, and A-Rod was surprised by the curtain call. He popped from the dugout, raised his arms Rocky-style, then ducked back inside.
"It's been a long time,'' he said. "I certainly thought the days of curtain calls for me were long gone.''
That's quite an upgrade from Rodriguez's intro on Opening Day, when he was welcomed back with a mixture of cheers and boos. It also proved that as long as A-Rod keeps doing what he's doing, his Bronx approval rating will be around 98 percent, and he's a big reason why this team leads the AL East.
His seven homers match Mike Trout, Joey Votto and Giancarlo Stanton. At this pace, A-Rod will hit 35 this season, leaving him 25 short of Babe Ruth. Now that's a milestone.
"I wish I could go out and thank every fan personally,'' Rodriguez said, "for not only the way they treated me tonight, but the way they've treated me all season. It's certainly fueling the way I'm playing.''
At Fenway, Rodriguez hit the game-winning homer to match Mays, then rounded the bases to loud boos. He didn't even get the baseball. The Red Sox fan who caught it atop the Green Monster refused to hand it over.
That night, A-Rod was almost a sympathetic figure. On Thursday night, the fanfare over his historic blast was brief, but at least it was recognized. And that was good enough. "Nobody owes me anything,'' Rodriguez said.