Yankees crush Toronto in spring opener

February 25, 2009 2:39:43 PM PST
Back on the field, Alex Rodriguez was able to put aside the steroids scandal. At least for a little while.

Booed and taunted by opposing fans in the Yankees' spring training opener, Rodriguez homered and drew two walks Wednesday in a 6-1 exhibition victory over Toronto that was anything but routine.

It was his first game since admitting he took performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-03 with Texas. He left after drawing a walk in the fifth inning, then signed autographs for five minutes before calling it a day.

"This is what I do. I know how to play baseball," Rodriguez said. "I just hope that the start of something really special for this year. I feel really good about our team."

There were lots of cheers for the three-time AL MVP, a smattering of boos and occasional catcalls from the crowd of 5,014 at mostly filled Dunedin Stadium.

The New York third baseman walked on five pitches in the first inning. Many in the crowd stood and cheered as he circled the bases after hitting a tiebreaking, two-run homer off Ricky Romero in the fourth.

By the third time he went to the plate, hecklers who earlier shouted "Hey, A-Rod. Where's your cousin?" and "Madonna" were drowned out by applause.

"When you're playing, it's hard to focus on standing ovations or boos. You're just trying to go out there and do your job," Rodriguez said. "Again, I didn't see anything that was bad at all."

Rodriguez had said he was prepared for whatever reception he received. He high-fived teammate Robinson Cano as he crossed the plate after his homer, and received more cheers when he trotted up the left-field line to the clubhouse.

"Maybe I'm just so used to it," the 33-year-old Rodriguez said of the reception. "It's been a decade for me, going at it. I just felt really relaxed. This is what I get paid to do. It feels good."

Earlier, manager Joe Girardi said he planned to talk to Rodriguez during the short bus ride from Tampa to Dunedin, where Yankees fans arrived early and gave A-Rod a polite reception. There were some boos mixed with cheers during pregame introductions and again when he strolled to the plate for the first time.

"I'll say a few things before the game. Nothing earth-shattering. He's been through hostile environments before.

... So this will probably seem somewhat par for the course," Girardi said. "It's still different overtime you go through a new situation. Whether he's experienced a similar situation, it's still a little bit different. It's something he's going to have to work his way through, and we'll be there for him every step of the way."

The Yankees play their first home exhibition Thursday against Tampa Bay.

Notes: Girardi plans to have RHP Joba Chamberlain make about 30 starts. Girardi set his likely rotation as CC Sabathia on opening day at Baltimore on April 6, to be followed by Chien-Ming Wang, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Chamberlain. The rotation appears to give Girardi a choice between Chamberlain and Sabathia for the first game at the new Yankee Stadium on April 16. ... RHPs Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez are staying with the Yankees rather than pitch for the Dominican Republic in the WBC. ... CF Melky Cabrera switched his uniform number from 28 to 53. Brett Tomko is now wearing No. 28 instead of 53. Bobby Abreu, now with the Los Angeles Angels, wore 53 last year.