NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi reflected for a moment during his postgame news conference. He was asked about spring training when Alex Rodriguez entered camp perceived as a pariah off the field and a question mark on it. There was a thought that Rodriguez may not even make it past spring training. That the resumption of his playing career was going to be over before it started. The Yankees may just cut him and eat all the money he was owed.
So now, on Labor Day weekend, the 40-year-old Rodriguez had just added a go-ahead solo homer off Rays ace Chris Archer on the heels of Brian McCann's three-run shot that had tied it in the sixth, Girardi was enjoying a 6-4 victory, while being asked what he would have thought at the Yankees' spring training facility in February if he were told that on Labor Day, Rodriguez would have 28 home runs and 76 RBIs.
"I would have said, 'Wow,'" Girardi said. "Not ever underestimating what he could do. Like I said, he hadn't really played for two years, coming off two hip surgeries. I also would have said, 'If he has 28 home runs we are probably going to be fighting for something.'"
That is where the Yankees are on Labor Day. They are fighting and clawing for the AL East crown, while the Jays just keep on winning. The Yankees came back from three runs down Sunday to beat Archer and the Rays and hold serve as Toronto whipped Baltimore. The Yankees, according to A-Rod, aren't even scoreboard-watching because Toronto is so hot.
"We don't even have to look -- we know what is going to happen up there," Rodriguez said.
Along with Mark Teixeira, Rodriguez and McCann have formed a power trio that has made this run possible. McCann hit his career-high 25th homer on Sunday.
He is a much more productive hitter this season than last. In his first full season as a Yankee, McCann finished with 23 homers and 75 RBIs. With 27 games to go, McCann has 25 homers and 86 RBIs. McCann thought a big reason why is just knowing the American League pitchers better after being with the Atlanta Braves.
"He's been such a run producer for us all year long," Girardi said. "To get that type of production out of a catcher, it doesn't happen very often because of what they go through physically."
Rodriguez has been a run producer, too, of course, except for August. In one of the worst months of his career, Rodriguez had a .153 average, two homers and 10 RBIs in 85 at-bats. His OPS was .532.
"August is always a tough month," Rodriguez said.
But Rodriguez hasn't gotten to all his milestones solely because of his performance-enhancing drug use. That has surely helped, but Rodriguez is one of the great baseball hitters of all time, and his brain is partly responsible. He is a baseball junkie who sees the game at a higher level, which has resulted in great mechanics.
"He has one of the best swings you could possibly have," McCann said.
With his eighth-inning single, Rodriguez tied Rod Carew with 3.053 hits, which is tied for 23rd all-time.
"Rod was very good to me early in my career when he was the hitting coach with the Angels and I was a young lad with the Mariners, so I really have a lot of appreciation and respect for him," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez has won some respect and admiration back for himself. He stripped himself of so much because of how disgracefully he behaved when targeted in the Biogenesis investigation. He was suing everyone, pointing fingers, which turned him into a person whom the Yankees really didn't want to be associated with, but to whom they owed $63 million over the next three years, so they decided to put up with him.
This season, Rodriguez is earning his money as the Yankees fight for something. As hard as it was to imagine in February, now it is easy to see the 2015 Yankees would probably be nowhere without Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez.