New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez hits a first-inning home run...

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez hits a first-inning home run during a rehab assignment at a minor league baseball game against the Dunedin Blue Jays. (Aug. 12, 2011) Credit: AP

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Alex Rodriguez hung around Florida Auto Exchange Stadium for all of three at-bats Friday night.

The first ball he hit in this brief Class A rehab stint as a Tampa Yankee exited the park much quicker than that.

In his first at-bat in a real game since July 11 knee surgery, Rodriguez sent a 3-and-1 pitch from 31-year-old former Mets lefthander Willie Collazo more than 400 feet over the leftfield wall. So certain was he that it would be a home run, Dunedin Blue Jays leftfielder Brad Glenn barely turned around.

It was A-Rod's first homer in a Yankees uniform of any kind since June 11. "I just got lucky,'' he said. "I haven't swung the bat in over five weeks. It was just fun to be out there in a competitive environment and to be around these kids.''

It was reminiscent of what he did against the Orioles on May 8, 2009, in his first at-bat of the year after coming back from hip surgery. On the first pitch he saw, he hit a three-run homer.

Batting third as the DH, he finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs amid a mixture of jeers and applause. He doubled in his second at-bat, hitting a sharp liner that knocked the glove off first baseman John Talley's hand. He struck out in his third at-bat after looking at a 90-mph fastball from lefty Matt Wright.

At that point, A-Rod seemed content; he had achieved what he set out to do on a searing Central Florida night. The first-inning homer seemed to signal both a repaired meniscus and mojo.

"For me, the home run meant a little bit more than a home run just because the last several weeks I was playing in New York, I wasn't able to drive the ball,'' he said. "I mean, I probably didn't hit a home run for over 70 at-bats.''

Indeed, in his final 22 games, he didn't have a home run in 84 at-bats, although he hit .333.

Rodriguez confirmed he'll play third base for Tampa on Saturday night, then compete in an intrasquad game Sunday morning. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the plan is for Rodriguez to join Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday and Wednesday.

He could rejoin the Yankees when they begin a four-game series in Minnesota on Thursday.

"We hope so,'' Rodriguez said when asked about that timetable. "Obviously, I'm not comfortable here. You get to a point where you're miserable because you're not with your teammates helping out. I miss my friends; those guys are my brothers and I just couldn't be more proud of the way those guys are playing.''

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