All along, it has been understood that Alex Rodriguez was going to change somebody's life. With the market for collectibles these days, it has been a given that his chase for home run No. 600 was going to make a celebrity out of someone in the stands. As it turned out last night, he did it for the fellow on the mound.
On one hand, his march from 599 homers to history gets more tedious day after day. On the other, it becomes more intriguing. This time, the chase resulted in something nearly impossible, it turned a night in late July into a big game for the Indians (a 4-1 win for Cleveland). And he made a name for Josh Tomlin.
A quick primer on Tomlin: He is 25, was drafted in the 19th round four years ago out of Texas Tech, emerged as a good prospect, had a brush with the law earlier this year when he was involved in a bar fracas with a couple of fellow minor-leaguers and had his parents visiting him in Columbus when he got the call to say he was making his major-league debut against the Yankees.
And, by the way, their cleanup batter was one short of becoming only the seventh player in big-league history to reach 600 home runs. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.
You know what they say about the bright lights of the majors. In this case, it was literally true. Every time Rodriguez came to bat, flashes went off all over Progressive Field as people tried to anticipate getting a shot of The Swing That Made History. All they got was the sight of Rodriguez making three outs against the kid, and one against closer Chris Perez.
Not just anything can make a major-league debut more special, but this did. Every time Rodriguez came to the plate, the umpires' locker room attendant came out with a handful of specially marked baseballs for plate umpire Dan Iassogna. Each ball was numbered and inscribed with an "R" (presumably for Rodriguez) so that the lucky fan who catches No. 600 can rake in the estimated $150,000 to $200,000 without people calling it a fake.
No A-bombs from A-Rod this night. Just a kid with his A-stuff.
"After throwing that first pitch to him in the second inning, seeing all those lights go off, the cameras go off, it gave me a pretty good adrenaline rush," Tomlin said after improving his career record to 1-0 without having walked a batter in his seven innings.
His intention was to pound the strike zone, pitch to contact, even if contact could make him a trivia answer forever. Giving up No. 600? No big deal. "I was trying to make pitches where I wasn't going to," Tomlin said.
"The kid threw really well. He had a really nice game," Rodriguez said. "He had a pretty good cutter and he kept our righties and lefties off balance. I don't think we had any good swings off him."
It was no accident that the leftfield bleachers were just about packed, considering fans thought they stood a chance of snagging a quick six-figure payday. But Indians fans just couldn't help themselves. They reflexively rooted against seeing history - although the whole thing grew really tense in the seventh, when he hit a fly to medium deep rightfield.
And that was nothing compared with the buzz in the place when Rodriguez batted as the potential tying run with two outs in the ninth. That's the point here. No. 600 is inevitable for Rodriguez, but it feels like life or death to the pitchers. Perez said he intentionally started the slugger out with a pitch inside because Tomlin had worked him away, then threw a slider down and away that resulted in a groundout to short.
Perez was asked what he was thinking as he approached that confrontation. He recalled the voice inside his head telling him: "Don't give it up. Don't let 600 be a big one like that."
He didn't, and everybody gets to try it again Wednesday night.