A-Rod gets No. 499 off Meche in KC
Another blast will make slugger 22nd member of 500 HR club
KANSAS CITY -- For some time, his entry hasn't been a matter of if, but when. Now, Alex Rodriguez sits just one home run shy of baseball's prestigious 500 Home Run Club.
The Major League leader in home runs and RBIs, Rodriguez slugged career home run No. 499 on Wednesday, a two-run shot in the eighth inning off Kansas City starter Gil Meche. A-Rod connected on a full-count offering from the right-hander, blasting it over the wall in right-center for an estimated 403-foot shot.
On the cusp of reaching the milestone that many consider to be representative of automatic inclusion in the Hall of Fame -- and in position to become the youngest player ever to do so, two days shy of his 32nd birthday -- Rodriguez reflected on the moment and said he never could have envisioned such a set of circumstances when he broke into the Majors as an 18-year-old in 1994.
"I was a shortstop, so I figured if I had 100 home runs and had a few thousand hits, that's pretty phenomenal," Rodriguez said. "I come from pretty humble backgrounds in Miami. I never thought I would come this far. I thank God."
With the Yankees leading the Royals, 3-1, on Wednesday, Rodriguez came to bat in the eighth with one out and a runner on, working the count to 3-2 against Meche. From the Yankees' dugout, manager Joe Torre put Bobby Abreu in motion from first base on a hit-and-run, and Rodriguez connected, his mindset to shoot a hit through an expected infield vacancy.
"It was a perfect situation for me to keep my shoulder in and try to hit a ball hard," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez found much more, ripping a line drive toward right-center field that soared, prompting Torre to later joke that it was the best possible hit-and-run A-Rod could have executed.
The pitch was Meche's 120th and final of the evening, and Rodriguez -- who was 1-for-3 with a single to that point -- said he may have had a nudge up in the at-bat.
"He's already worn down, so I'm just hoping to catch a mistake and hit a ball hard somewhere," Rodriguez said. "I know that he's probably on his last leg pitching a great game. After you've seen him three times, the advantage is to the hitter a little bit. I was fortunate to do that."
Meche said that if he could have walked up to the plate and placed it in catcher John Buck's glove, the pitch was in the exact location where he would have thrown it.
"It was knee high on the outside corner and [a] 3-2 cutter," Meche said. "A good pitch, and he is just one of the best guys in the league to put that much power on a pitch like that, and hit it out of the ballpark. I felt like I got beat by one of the best players in the game. Nothing you can do."
The homer gave Torre just one more reason to rave over a player who has assembled a remarkable season to this point.
"When you get to see him day in and day out, you realize how explosive he is," Torre said. "The home run tonight -- that's a line drive in the gap for anyone else. The ball stays in the air and that's a home run. For a line drive to stay in the air that long, especially to one of the deepest parts of the park, you have to have special talent for that."
Torre has marveled at Rodriguez's rapid ascension from 400 home runs to the neighborhood of the 500 mark, and believes that when Rodriguez eventually hits the historic shot, he is virtually assured of entry into Cooperstown.
Of course, no one knows just how many more Rodriguez can hit from here, and it's certainly legitimate to speculate if it is simply a matter of years before he becomes baseball's all-time home run leader.
"To me, Alex is just stopping off here at 500," Torre said. "It's not like, 'Oh, good, I made my career.' He has higher aspirations than that. Not to say that 500 isn't a free ticket to the Hall of Fame, but this kid, if he stays healthy, God only knows."
Rodriguez leads the Major Leagues with 35 home runs and was the first player to reach the 100-RBI plateau this season, climbing up the ladder toward becoming the 22nd player in Major League history to reach the 500-home run milestone.
His 499 homers rank 22nd on baseball's all-time list, five ahead of Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff, and four behind Toronto's Frank Thomas.
With just one home run now standing between him and No. 500, Rodriguez can't help but be reminded of the milestone each time he steps to the plate. Major League Baseball began supplying umpires with specially marked balls for Rodriguez's at-bats for authentication purposes starting with home run No. 496 on July 16 against the Blue Jays.
Teammate Mike Mussina, the winning pitcher in Wednesday's victory, said that the pursuit hasn't altered A-Rod's approach.
"I know it's a big deal, and it's a huge accomplishment," Mussina said. "But we're focusing on playing a game right now and I think he's focusing on playing a game. He's not trying to lift every pitch that's thrown to him, he's still trying to do what he's been doing. Because of that, he's having -- up to this point -- what looks like one of his best years."
Interestingly, most of Rodriguez's milestone home runs have come on the road. He hit homer No. 400 at Milwaukee, No. 300 at Anaheim, Nos. 250 and 100 at Toronto, and No. 200 at Chicago. Rodriguez's first Major League home run on June 12, 1995 was hit at Seattle's Kingdome while playing for the Mariners.
Rodriguez had his first shot at No. 500 in the ninth inning of Wednesday's game against the Royals, coming to bat against right-hander Octavio Dotel with two runners on and one out. Dotel struck out Rodriguez swinging, and later, A-Rod admitted that the thought of ending the chase here and now crossed his mind.
"A little bit," Rodriguez said. "I mean, the game is pretty open and I'm facing my good buddy Dotel. You kind of feel the fans getting into it."
But perhaps it was best that Rodriguez saved the achievement for another day. For one thing, the Yankees had the game well in hand, but an announced crowd of 28,460 was dwindling. Better to do it in front of as many witnesses as possible.
"I think, for the most part, he would like to get it over with," Torre said. "He would like to get it over with. But again, you're seeing something special. He didn't hit the 500th, but I'm sure those people who left the game are probably kicking themselves because they had a chance to see something special."
Rodriguez, whose Yankees moved within 6 1/2 games of the Red Sox in the American League East race with their victory Wednesday, has been reluctant at times to discuss the pursuit of No. 500 with his team fighting to secure a playoff berth.
As he said Wednesday, the Yankees must keep more in mind when they head to the ballpark than just individual statistics.
"We're just looking for wins every day," Rodriguez said. "It's hard for me to even think about this when every game is so important for us. I don't do a good job of celebrating or savoring anything."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.