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A-Rod's 1st pitch: Homer off Guthrie

May 9, 2009

By David Driver
For the Tidings
Used with permission

BALTIMORE The cameras were flashing as Alex Rodriguez came to the plate in the top of the first inning here Friday night. There were several Yankee fans hollering their support, while at least one fan dressed in an Oriole jersey behind home plate held a giant, fake syringe over his head to taunt the Yankee third baseman.

Rodriguez, in his first Major League at bat this season, blasted a three-run homer to left field on the first pitch he saw against Oriole ace Jeremy Guthrie. The homer off Guthrie, a 1997 graduate of Ashland High School, came after back-to-back walks to Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira with one out.

It also came after Oriole fans, as expected, booed Rodriguez as he came to the plate. The Yankee slugger, who admitted in spring training he once used steroids, had been on the disabled list with a hip injury.

Never mind that Guthrie fanned Rodriguez the next two times he came to the plate. The Yankees made his first inning homer stand up in a 4-0 victory Friday before 36,926 fans at Camden Yards as lefty CC Sabathia threw a shutout.

"It was a real special atmosphere," Guthrie said. "One big hit is all it took. Alex showed us that. It was a great opportunity to go up against the Yankees. It was a very exciting place to be pitching."

Rodriguez addressed a large gathering of media after the game in an auxiliary pressroom on the ground floor of Camden Yards. He said he entered his first at bat of the game looking to be on the attack.

"It was awesome. I really enjoyed it," he said of his first game back.

"I took the first pitch I saw and hit it. I wanted to be aggressive in the (hitting) zone. One swing and the rest was CC. Anytime you hit a fastball at 95 miles per hour with good location it is very encouraging."

The Yankee slugger said he will be "very curious" to see how he feels when he wakes up Saturday morning after playing nine innings at the Major League level for the first time this season. "I feel like I am back with my family, where I belong," Rodriguez said.

Guthrie (2-3) was lifted after six innings and the score still 3-0. He allowed three earned runs and seven hits and fanned a season-high eight batters, with two walks. He threw 102 pitches, 62 for strikes.

"Guthrie is back to where Guthrie needs to be," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "He mantained his velocity the whole game. He had it all game. He did what he had to do. What Guthrie is doing is he is speeding up his delivery. He has found his velocity again."

But what about the home run by Rodriguez? "The location of the pitch was pretty darn good," Trembley said. "He is just a great hitter. He turned it around. There was a lot of hardball out there tonight."

Yankee starter Sabathia (2-3), who lost to Guthrie here on Opening Day, gave up singles to his first two batters, Brian Roberts and former Mariner Adam Jones. But he got out of the first inning jam and did not allow a hit until he gave up singles to start the ninth to Cesar Izturis and Roberts. Sabathia then struck out Jones, Nick Markakis and Melvin Mora to end the game.

"CC pitched a tremendous game," Trembley said. "He had it all working for him."

Guthrie entered Friday's game with an ERA of 5.05 in six starts this season. The Roseburg native is now 19-20 in his big league career. In his previous start May 3 at Toronto he pitched a season-high eight innings in a complete game effort but the Orioles lost, 4-3.

The Yankees added a run in the seventh off Bob McCrory, who took over for Guthrie in his second Major League game.

New York first baseman Teixeira, who grew up in nearby Severna Park, Md., was booed again by Oriole fans in his second series in Baltimore since joining the Bronx Bombers before this season.

But the louder boos were saved for Rodriguez, who returned from the disabled list after he missed the first 28 games.

The former Mariner made 44 plate appearances in Florida during rehab and several extended spring training games against minor leaguers. While he was gone New York third basemen hit a combined .202 with no homers and ranked near the bottom of most offensive categories in the majors for third base production.

Sabathia spoke to the media as he wore a wrapping around his left shoulder, which is typical for many Major League pitchers after going the distance.

"I was trying to attack everyone and go after everybody," said Sabathia, who like Guthrie is a product of the Cleveland Indian farm system.

Notes: Guthrie picked Nick Swisher off third base in the fourth when third base umpire Tim Tschida ruled Yankee third base coach Rob Thomson tried to help push Swisher back to the base ... Guthrie made a fine defensive play on the first pitch of the game, as he retired Derek Jeter on a swinging bunt down the third base line.