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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

A-Rod throws jolt into lineup and nonbelievers

Alex Rodriguez is greeted in the Yankees dugout

Alex Rodriguez is greeted in the Yankees dugout after his two run home run in the first inning. (May 23, 2012) Credit: David Pokress

The Royals were warned. So too were the growing number of skeptics. The next time Alex Rodriguez says he's "about to go off," as he told reporters after Tuesday's disappointing performance, here's a tip: Believe him.

This was no guarantee by A-Rod, or a called shot. He didn't get that specific. But for anyone who didn't buy into Tuesday's one-man pep rally -- and there were plenty of us -- Rodriguez abused Royals' rookie Will Smith to show he wasn't kidding around.

A-Rod homered twice off Smith in his first two at-bats, and these were not cheap pop-ups swept up by a strong spring breeze. They felt more like statements in the Yankees' 8-3 win over the Royals.

"I said it because I meant it," Rodriguez said, recalling his pledge. "I said it because I've been working on some things. I said it with conviction -- not because it was going to sound good here in my locker [Tuesday] but because I felt it. And it's good to back that up."

In the first inning, after Mark Teixeira had walked, Rodriguez pulled a 2-and-2 fastball into the leftfield seats. That ended a streak of 52 at-bats without a home run and a stretch of only two in his previous 103 at-bats. The next time up, in the third, A-Rod obliterated another fastball, and this shot sailed roughly 420 feet into the centerfield alley adjacent to Monument Park.

For all the questions raised about Rodriguez's recent power outage, these swings made them sound silly. Before yesterday's game, Joe Girardi faced the usual interrogation about his slumping cleanup hitter. And as always, Girardi defended A-Rod, saying that he believes in the track record.

It's become a predictable routine. But on this night, Rodriguez made his manager look smart, not just loyal.

"For Alex to go out and do that, now people can stop asking where the power is," Girardi said. "We see it every day in BP. It's pretty incredible. I don't know how many people watched his BP in Toronto, but he was playing pepper with the people eating lunch in centerfield. The power's there."

Wednesday night, Rodriguez again looked like the potential Hall of Famer -- attach an asterisk if you'd like -- that Girardi has talked about. And Rodriguez traced it back to his final at-bat Tuesday night, which to the untrained eye looked to be nothing more significant than a fly ball.

Nope, said Rodriguez. That's when he knew.

Now in his 19th season, Rodriguez has a decent grasp of how this stuff works, regardless of his supposedly slowing bat and aching body. Deep down, A-Rod is the only one who truly knows, and he also understands how much he has riding on his shoulders.

"When you hit in the middle of the order, your team expects you to come up with big hits," Rodriguez said. "And look, I was tired of making the news for taking third base on a fly ball or stealing a base. That's a big part of the game, and I take a lot of pride in it. But I understand what my bread and butter is, and that's to make big noise with my bat."

The Yankees have maintained that if Derek Jeter could reverse the aging process, or at least slow it for a few months, then why not A-Rod? Or Teixeira? It's what Girardi and his crew have clung to during the Yankees' most turbulent times, believing that A-Rod will regain his power and single-handedly carve out the next winning streak.

That's pretty much what happened Wednesday night. With the Yankees badly in search of a spark, Rodriguez's two homers supplied a good chunk of the electricity -- even if it flickered and died afterward.

Bidding for a hat trick, A-Rod grounded out with the bases loaded in the fifth inning. He struck out looking in the seventh. That prevented it from being a historic night for Rodriguez, but the 60th multi-homer game of his career was enough. For him as well as the Yankees. And not a moment too soon for either one.

"I have a very good understanding of what I had to do at the plate," Rodriguez said. "We've been doing this a long time. We identified some things, we attacked it hard the last three or four days, and I think there's going to be a lot more of that to come."


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