NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez leaned to his right and watched the ball as it sailed toward the foul pole in left. When it stayed true, he threw up his hands _ the long wait for No. 500 was finally over.
Rodriguez became the youngest player in major league history to hit 500 home runs, connecting on the first pitch he saw Saturday to end a 10-day wait.
“I acted like a goofball running around the bases, but you only hit 500 once,” he said after the New York Yankees beat Kansas City 16-8.
The 32-year-old Rodriguez stood at home plate for a second after his first-inning drive off Kyle Davies, waiting to see where it would land.
“I didn’t know if it was going to be fair or foul. I was so relieved it stayed fair,” Rodriguez said. “I hadn’t hit one in so long.”
After more than a week of watching his teammates hit a lot of home runs, it was A-Rod’s turn. He started trotting around the bases with a wide grin on his face as the sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium cheered wildly. He finished with three hits, along with a hug from Derek Jeter.
“I’ve conceded the fact that you can’t will yourself to hit a home run. I tried that for four or five days,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez homered eight days after his birthday and surpassed Jimmie Foxx (32 years, 338 days) as the youngest player to reach 500. A-Rod is the 22nd player to reach the mark, the second this season behind Frank Thomas. Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome might get there this year, too.
It may not take long for Rodriguez to rise to the top of the list, either.
Rodriguez leads the majors with 36 home runs this season, one more than he hit last year.
“His prime years are ahead of him, basically,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “This is a stop-off for him. It’s not a destination.”
Rodriguez hugged Jeter and Bobby Abreu, who both scored on the landmark home run, and blew a kiss toward the stands after completing his trip around the bases. His teammates were already on the field and he embraced several of them on his way back to the bench.
“I was a little embarrassed. I felt like we were in high school. All the guys coming out to shake my hand in the first inning,” he said.
The crowd buzzed and roared again when A-Rod stuck his head out of the dugout for the long-awaited curtain call, which came 10 days after he hit No. 499.
“You wish you could pay each fan back by shaking their hands, but all I could do is hit a home run and win a game,” he said. “They wasted a lot of Kodak film on me this week, I’m just glad I was able to pay them back.”
After he took his seat next to Jeter, the Yankees captain reached out and playfully rubbed A-Rod’s head as the two superstars laughed. The two were close when they were younger but Rodriguez admitted in spring training that their relationship had cooled over the years.
The All-Star third baseman also became the third player to accomplish the feat as a Yankee and the second to do it in the Bronx. Babe Ruth hit his 500th at Cleveland on Aug. 11, 1929, and Mickey Mantle reached the mark at home against Baltimore on May 14, 1967.
Rodriguez went into a tailspin after hitting No. 499 on July 25 at Kansas City. He was hitless in a career-worst 22 straight at-bats before he singled in the second inning of Thursday’s 13-9 loss against the Chicago White Sox.
His 500th came in his 1,855th game. Only two players took fewer games to reach 500: Mark McGwire (1,639) and Ruth (1,740).
The Yankees said the man who ended up with the ball from Rodriguez’s home run didn’t want to be identified, and hadn’t decided what he was going to do with it.
A-Rod and Yankees fans have had an up-and-down relationship since he joined the team in 2004.
“It takes awhile in New York,” said Rodriguez, pilloried in the city’s tabloids this season for off-the-field personal issues. “For some people, it takes six months to a year. I think it truly took me three to four years to understand New York.”
One fan held a yellow sign that read “501?” before his second at-bat, but Rodriguez walked on four pitches. He stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on Wilson Betemit’s single to give New York a 5-2 lead.
He singled to right in the fourth, flied out to deep center in the sixth, singled in the seventh and was lifted after the inning ended.
Robinson Cano tied a career high with four hits and Bobby Abreu scored four runs for New York, which has won five of its last six to improve to a season-best 10 games over .500. Mike Myers (3-0) got the last out of the fifth to earn the win.
Davies lasted just three innings in his first start for Kansas City, which acquired him from the Braves on Tuesday for reliever Octavio Dotel. He gave up five runs and six hits in his first career appearance against the Yankees. John Bale (0-1) got the loss.
Rodriguez started his career with the Seattle Mariners, who took him with the first overall pick in the 1993 draft. One year later, he became the third 18-year-old shortstop in the majors since 1900. At that point, he gave little indication that he would develop into a two-time AL MVP and one of the game’s greatest home run hitters.
He went homerless in 17 games for Seattle in that first season, and hit five in 48 games the following year.
But in 1996, his first full season in the big leagues, he hit 36 home runs. And after hitting 23 in 1997, he hasn’t fallen short of 30 since. He scored three runs against the Royals to become the first player in major league history with 10 straight seasons of at least 35 homers, 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored.
A-Rod’s first home run came on June 12, 1995, against Tom Gordon and Kansas City. He hit No. 100 in August 1998, No. 200 in May 2001 with Texas and No. 300 in April 2003 with Texas. Number 400 came on June 8, 2005, against Milwaukee during his second season with the Yankees.
He hit 189 home runs with Seattle, 156 with Texas and has 155 with New York. He is one of only three players, along with Reggie Jackson and Darrell Evans, to hit 100 home runs for three different teams.