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A-Rod relieved, euphoric after finally hitting 600

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (13) is congratulated by bench coach Tony Pena (56) after hitting a two run homerun in the bottom of the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. The homerun is the 600th of his career. (August 4, 2010) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

For nearly two weeks, fans stood when he came to the plate. A special ball marked with the letter 'R' and a number would be handed to the pitcher. And a quiet, expectant hush would fall over the ballpark.

Standing on the brink of history was anything but fun for Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees third baseman said Wednesday he was as much as relieved as euphoric to have finally hit his 600th home run.

"I'd say the feeling is 50-50," he said. "It really felt good, but it was a relief to put it past me and start focusing on baseball."

Rodriguez became the seventh and youngest major-league player to hit 600 home runs when he connected off the Blue Jays' Shaun Marcum for a two-run homer in the first inning of the Yankees' 5-1 win.

None of his six predecessors had to wait as long between No. 599 and 600 as Rodriguez did. Forty-seven official at-bats ago, on July 22 against Kansas City, Rodriguez hit No. 599. He certainly didn't expect to hit No. 600 right away, but he didn't expect to go 9-for-46.

After going 0-for-3 in Tuesday night's loss to Toronto, he felt as if he had hit a new low. He was hitless in his last 17 at-bats and so preoccupied that he forgot to show up for a team picture before the game. The Yankees' third consecutive defeat dropped them out of first place, and it was clear from reporters' questions that some thought his quest was becoming a distraction to the team.

Derek Jeter could see he was struggling, so he took Rodriguez aside in one of the back rooms of the clubhouse Tuesday night. Jeter knew what it was like to be in a historic chase, having broken Lou Gehrig's franchise hits record last September. He thought it might help if Rodriguez just tried to get on base to break the slump.

"He just said to me try to get a base hit,'' A-Rod said. "Maybe even bunt."

Lance Berkman, who was in a much less historic situation last season while going for home run No. 300 as an Astro, agreed.

"It's like a little bit of a monkey on your back when you go up to hit," Berkman said. "It's just because people are focusing on it and you start to put extra pressure on yourself."

Berkman said when he hit his 300th, he had two strikes and was just thinking about not striking out. "I was trying to put the ball in play. And that's how it happened.''

That's how it happened for Rodriguez, who said he was thinking about just making contact when he walked to the plate. Jeter was on first base when Rodriguez lifted the 2-and-0 pitch into the net over Monument Park in centerfield.

"When I got to home plate,'' A-Rod said, "The Captain was waiting there with a big smile."

And now Rodriguez is smiling, too.

"I'm just happy to get this out of the way," he said, "and get back to playing good, strong team baseball."

New York Sports