A-Rod hits three a mile, ends his denial

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It would be easy to look at Alex Rodriguez's Saturday night at the K and compare it to Reggie Jackson's Tuesday night in the Bronx 33 years ago.

After all, each hit three home runs, off three different pitchers, and each shot was longer than the one before. And on both nights, it is possible that, minus those bombs, the outcome of the games might have been different.

But of course, there really is no similarity. Reggie's home runs were hit in October, not August, and in the decisive game of a World Series, not in the course of late-summer busywork while the New York Yankees wait for the real business of the season to resume a month or so from now.

What we saw Saturday night was not a Reggie Night, but an A-Rod night, a night of the type the Yankees expected to see more of when they brought him and his breathtaking contract over from Texas in 2004, and when they extended him for another decade, at a substantial raise, following his 2007 MVP season.

But there haven't been any nights like this one from A-Rod this season. In fact, there hadn't been a night like this from him in a long, long time. Although it marked the fourth time in his career he has hit three home runs in a game, the most recent time was five years ago, when he whacked three home runs of Bartolo Colon on April 26, 2005.

And believe it, those nights were missed, by the Yankees and by Rodriguez.

"Tonight was a treat," Rodriguez said. "It was obviously a very fun night and it was a night I'll never forget. You just don't do things like that very often in a career."

He knocked in five of his team's eight runs to run his total to 97 and leapfrog Miguel Cabrera for the major league lead, but that's not what A-Rod was referring to.

Deep down, he knows that everything he has -- the $275 million contract, the nickname, the raucous reception, both positive and negative, in every ballpark in the league -- is tied in to one thing: the long ball.

Alex Rodriguez is A-Rod because he hits home runs. A lot of them. Period. Not because he drives in runs or plays a mean third base. Not because he dates actresses or has a penchant for grabbing headlines of all types.

And finally, for the first time all season, he has gotten around to acknowledging it.

For all his talk this year about being unconcerned over his diminishing home run totals and notable lack of power this season, in the clubhouse following an 8-3 win over the Kansas City Royals, a laser show that featured five Yankees home runs, the truth came out.

Alex Rodriguez does consider himself a home run hitter. And until Saturday night, he wasn't entirely sure he still was.

"I haven't really hit for any power this year, so it's been frustrating," he said. "Being stuck at 599 was really a microcosm of what's happened all year. I've been able to drive in runs and hit some doubles here and there, but overall I've hit for no power."

And it's been bugging him. There, he said it.

And whether it was the pressure of trying to join the 600 Club as quickly and painlessly as possible, or confronting the prospect of his own inevitable decline, there is little doubt that until about a week ago, Rodriguez's bat was hardly the most fearsome in the Yankees lineup.

For the first half of the season, that honor belonged to Robby Cano, and for the past month or so, to Mark Teixeira.

What Alex Rodriguez did Saturday night was the first indication that maybe before this season is out, his bat, too, will stake its claim as the one to fear.

"It was nice to carry the team for one night," he said. "These guys have been doing a lot of carrying me all year."

It was a night that started out less them impressively for A-Rod: In his second at-bat, he stranded two runners by striking out on three pitches against Royals starter Sean O'Sullivan to end the Yankees' third.

But things got better in a hurry as soon as Rodriguez began to take his long-distance tour of Kauffman Stadium. In the sixth inning, he led off with a line shot off O'Sullivan into the seats beyond the left-center field fence to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.

That one was long.

Then in the seventh -- with the Yankees leading 4-3 after solo homers by Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson in the sixth -- Rodriguez visited the batter's eye well behind the center field fence off Kanekoa Texeira, going down to get a 94 mph sinker nearly at his shoetops.

That one was longer.

But he saved his most titanic blast for last, a two-run shot that tore through the waterfall in left off Greg Holland.

That was the longest, at 439 feet. In total, his three blasts were measured at a combined 1,270 feet, or nearly as long as the main span of the Brooklyn Bridge.

"I'm not surprised at anything he does," manager Joe Girardi said. "I always believed he would [hit 30 homers this season]. I'm not sure everyone else did, but I always believed."

Now, it looks as if Girardi's faith may be rewarded. After needing 374 at-bats to hit his first 16 homers, the last of which was the elusive No. 600, A-Rod has hit four in his last 37 at-bats, all four of them coming on this trip.

He credited hitting coach Kevin Long with helping him "clear his hips" in some extra cage sessions this week, but what really appears to have been cleared is his head.

"You know, sometimes milestones are a pain, they really are," Girardi said. "You want to get through it so quickly, you forget what you need to do. I don't know if he did that but since he's gotten by 600, they've come a little more rapidly."

Alex Rodriguez is never going to be Reggie Jackson around here. There's too much excess baggage attached to him, too many questions surrounding his accomplishments and too many great hitters surrounding him in the lineup for him to ever be the straw that stirs this drink.

But Saturday night, Alex Rodriguez took three giant steps toward just being A-Rod again, which is really all the Yankees ever asked of him.

GAME NOTES: Phil Hughes pitched six serviceable innings to win his 14th of the year, the second-highest win total in the AL, on a night in which he could not find a strikeout pitch. Still, he limited the damage well and pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth with help from Teixeira, who made several excellent plays at first base. ... Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Sergio Mitre combined to pitch three innings of one-hit ball the rest of the way. ... Derek Jeter's third-inning single tied him with Hall of Famer Zack Wheat for 36th on the all-time hits list with 2,884. ... The Yanks look to go 5-2 as they wrap up the seven-game trip Sunday with A.J. Burnett (9-9, 4.87) against RHP Bryan Burlington (0-2, 4.85). First pitch at 2:10 p.m.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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