A-Rod and the quest for Willie Mays

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A-Rod doesn’t deliver during Rob’s visit to Yankee Stadium. (R. Lincoln Harris)

Back in January, before spring training was underway, I theorized in this space about what was going to happen when Alex Rodriguez returned to baseball after a year suspension. I didn’t know how fans would react, and I reckoned he would be on the doorstep of hitting career home run number 660 to tie Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list.

Flash forward to Monday night in Yankee Stadium. There he was, hitting third in the Yankees’ lineup, and needing to hit one home run to reach 660 for his career. In the post-Derek Jeter era, he — along with Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and manager Joe Girardi — is one of the few remaining links to the last Yankees title team from 2009. And whatever I might think about his past steroid use, the players who have accomplished 660 home runs can be counted on one hand. So yes, I was hoping to say I witnessed a historic home run in the Bronx.

The best chance to see it happen came in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Yankees were ahead 3-1, and A-Rod came to the plate against Rays reliever Everett Teaford, who was just recalled from the Rays’ triple-A affiliate on Saturday. The pitcher who yields home run number 660 will carve his name into the history books, in the way Milt Gaston did with Babe Ruth in 1933, Wayne Simpson did with Hank Aaron in 1972, Don Gullett did with Mays in 1973, and Matt Kinney did with Barry Bonds in 2004. If Everett Teaford will ever become the answer to a trivia question, why not get it over with in Yankee Stadium?

But it was not meant to be. Teaford ran the count to 3-0 on A-Rod, and the decision was made to issue an intentional walk, instead. When the crowd realized what was happening, a lusty round of booing made its way through the chilly New York air. And Willie Mays keeps his spot on the all-time home run list for another day, at least. But it’s inevitable that a pitcher will join the “660 club” soon enough. The only question is who will it be? Stay tuned and we’ll find out.

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