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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees want homers from Alex Rodriguez but don't want to pay for them

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez looks

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez looks on from the dugout after the grounds out during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in a game at Yankee Stadium on Monday, April 27, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For the record, the Yankees did acknowledge a milestone Monday night that involved Alex Rodriguez. It came in the fourth inning, as A-Rod walked to the plate, when the scoreboard informed us that Rodriguez "leads all active players and ranks second all-time with 216 hits vs. Tampa."

The person he's chasing? Derek Jeter, who retired with 317 against the Rays.

No mention of Willie Mays or 660, however. Those words continue to go unmentioned in the Bronx, where everyone held their breath for another night waiting to see A-Rod make history -- and further test the Yankees' resolve.

The team has relented in a few subtle ways, with the game notes now including Rodriguez's pursuit in rather small type beneath his season-long suspension and the fact that he's the longest-tenured Yankee on the 25-man roster.

There also was Joe Girardi's mutinous behavior before Monday night's game, when he ignored company policy and agreed that A-Rod's chase of Mays indeed would be a milestone.

"Yeah," Girardi said. "I mean, 660 home runs. He continues to move up on the leaderboard. There's going to be a lot of different opinions on this 660 and when he passes Willie. Barry [Bonds] went through it. A lot of the guys went through it.

"The reality is, it's 660 home runs. I don't know what you say, but when you go look in the record books, his name is going to be there."

A-Rod isn't the first one down this path. But Bonds wasn't coming off a year-long ban or dealing with a potential legal battle over disputed bonus money. This situation is unique to Rodriguez.

Despite Girardi's statement, the Yankees reportedly will not recognize tying Mays as a contractually defined milestone and intend to withhold the $6 million Rodriguez is due upon reaching No. 660. The team believes he is no longer a marketable star as a serial PED offender.

When asked Sunday night about how the Yankees should acknowledge the milestone, A-Rod smiled and said, "I don't have a marketing degree."

Rodriguez, who got his second start at third base, went 0-for-3. When he came up in the seventh with Brett Gardner on second, Everett Teaford fell behind 3-and-0 before walking him intentionally. That brought loud boos, the most enthusiastic response from the crowd all night, and also signaled that Rodriguez was done. Girardi sent Chase Headley in as a pinch runner and Mays had fourth place to himself for another day.

It shouldn't be much longer. Rodriguez, with five home runs, is averaging one every 15.6 plate appearances, a pace that would get him to 32 by season's end. If A-Rod -- who will turn 40 in July and has two surgically repaired hips -- stays healthy, that would set up a far more dramatic pursuit in 2016: He'd be in range of Babe Ruth's 714.

Mays holds the title of "greatest living ballplayer," but Ruth's legacy for a Yankee is sacred ground. We can't imagine what that would be like just yet.

For now, A-Rod already is beating expectations. "I've been drawing my walks and seeing a lot of pitches," he said Sunday after hitting No. 659. "For me, it's a good sign."

The Yankees have mixed emotions. The front office doesn't want to pay him a dime more than the $61 million he has left on his contract. Down on the field, they want him to reach as many milestones as possible.

"I think our players are happy for him," Girardi said.

Then again, it's not their money.

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