Alex Rodriguez hit .290/.392/.523 with 35 homers and a 137 wRC+ in 2006. Only in the world of many New York Yankees fans was this season considered a disappointment. He was relentlessly booed throughout the season and even had his own manager, Joe Torre, show no faith in him by batting him eighth in a must-win ALDS game. Rodriguez's situation in New York was at an all-time low when he entered the '07 season, but something to look forward to that year was his 500th career home run. At the time, only 21 other players had ever hit 500 homers, and none of them were as young as A-Rod when he approached the milestone. However, it would take a good season to reach the mark, as he entered the year 36 homers shy of 500. If he played similarly to how he performed in '06, he could have had a chance to reach it near the end of the season. Fortunately, the '07 version of A-Rod had arguably the greatest season of his career and one of the finest in Yankees history.
In Spring Training, Rodriguez cleared the air with many reporters who maligned him in his previous three seasons in New York and admitted the partial deterioration of his friendship with Yankees captain Derek Jeter. He felt a pressure was off his shoulders, and he proceeded to destroy American League pitching. He set a league record with 14 homers in April, hitting .355/.415/.882 in the month with two walk-off blasts, helping eliminate the idea that he was not "clutch." He was one of the few reasons the Yankees were winning any games at all since they began the season horribly, sitting at 21-29 on May 29th. After a slight slump in May, he hit a tremendous .402/.496/.773 in June and he inched closer to the 500-homer milestone in July while the team also rebounded with a 16-11 month. On July 25th, he slugged his 499th career homer in Kansas City against Gil Meche. He slumped to an 0-for-21 skid as he pressed to reach the milestone, as many players tend to do when they approach such achievements. A pair of hits in an August 1st game against the Chicago White Sox broke his slump, and he appeared ready to finally hit his 500th homer when the Yankees prepared to play the Royals again, this time at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees themselves were now officially back in the pennant race after a 19-9 July vaulted them to eight games above .500. They won two of the first three games of August against the White Sox and Royals, and on August 4th, they sent rookie phenom Phil Hughes to match up with 23-year-old righthander Kyle Davies, who made his Royals debut after being traded from the Atlanta Braves. Rodriguez had never previously batted against Davies in his 14-year career. The Yankees got off to a good start when Jeter singled to center and right fielder Bobby Abreu walked to move him into scoring position. A-Rod stepped to the plate, now entrenched in the cleanup spot in the batting order. On the first pitch, Davies threw a sinker, trying to get a double play to escape the inning. The pitch floated toward the middle of the plate, and Rodriguez was able to get his arms extended, smashing the pitch high and deep down the left field line toward the foul pole.
The ball was certainly headed for the seats, but Rodriguez was unsure whether it would go fair or foul, so he stood at home plate watching the flight of the ball. He later noted, "I hadn't hit one in so long ... I definitely thought, because I've been hooking the ball a little bit, where that ball started -- last week, that ball probably would have hooked foul about 20 feet." Torre immediately knew it would be fair though and exclaimed "That's it!" to bench coach Don Mattingly. It was indeed, fair, so A-Rod tossed his arms up in exultation and circled the bases with the awesome music from "The Natural" playing in the background. It was his MLB-leading 36th homer of the season, and he would go on to lead baseball with 54 that season, his best total as a Yankee and the second-highest of his career (after a 57-homer '02 season). He was the third player to ever hit his 500th homer as a Yankee, after Babe Ruth founded the 500 Home Run Club on August 11, 1929 against Willis Hudlin of the Cleveland Indians and Mickey Mantle joined him on May 14, 1967 against Stu Miller of the Baltimore Orioles. The three-run homer also gave the Yankees an early 3-0 lead in the game.
Left fielder Hideki Matsui followed Rodriguez's 500th homer with a double, and second baseman Robinson Cano brought him home with a triple to the right-center field gap to give the Yankees another run. The Royals responded with two runs in the third inning on two doubles and a single against Hughes. Rodriguez helped create a run mostly by himself when he walked in his first at bat after his 500th homer, then stole second (one of 24 he would steal in '07, only the fourth player to have a 20-50 season). He moved to third on a groundout and scored on a line drive single tor right field by first baseman Wilson Betemit, filling in for regular Jason Giambi. The Yankees added two more runs in the fourth against reliever John Bale on three consecutive singles (one by A-Rod) to make it a four-run lead. The Royals surprisingly came back in the top of the fifth to tie the game against Hughes on a two-run homer by center fielder David DeJesus, a single, and two doubles. The last hit, a double, came from lefty Ross Gload against LOOGY reliever Mike Myers. Myers got out of the inning with a strikeout and got the win for the game when the Yankees took the lead in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI groundout by center fielder Melky Cabrera. Myers clearly just knew how to win. The Yankees spent the rest of the game pummeling the Royals' bullpen, and the final score was 16-8. Rodriguez went 3-for-4 with a walk in his 500-homer game, and he later won the AL MVP for his incredible year.
Exactly three years later, Rodriguez again made home run history with his 600th homer, but that's a story for another day. Get well soon, A-Rod.