NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter had stayed late in the back rooms of the Yankees' clubhouse on Tuesday night. Rodriguez was scuffling, hitless in 17 at-bats, and the Bronx Bombers themselves had lost three straight and four out of five to slip back to second place in the American League East for the first time in almost two months.
Jeter counseled Rodriguez on how to approach a milestone, advice gleaned from his own pursuit of Lou Gehrig's franchise hits record a season ago. Jeter told Rodriguez to just get a base hit, to maybe even bunt for one.
As Rodriguez touched home after launching his 600th career home run in the first inning of Wednesday's 5-1 win over the Blue Jays -- which came three years to the day after he hit his 500th -- Jeter had a big smile.
"So there goes the bunting situation," Jeter said.
Wednesday was a time of smiles all around for the Yankees, who in their win in the Bronx salvaged the final game of the series -- they also are tied for first in the AL East after the Rays' loss later that night -- and saw the albatross of Rodriguez's chase of 600 finally depart from their shoulders.
"I thought it was very important that we won today," manager Joe Girardi said. "We haven't won the last two series, and that's frustrating for us. Going into the off-day, guys feel better, and obviously, we've got an important series coming up."
The Yankees could indeed breathe again when Rodriguez provided an early boost with the team's third first-inning two-run homer in as many games. This time, they were able to make it stick.
Fewest at-bats to reach 600 career homers
Ken Griffey Jr.
"It's an amazing accomplishment," said Girardi. "It's a big hit, too. Toronto beat us the first two games, and it gives [Phil] Hughes something to work with."
"We needed this game badly," Rodriguez said. "Today, the focus was that we needed to win. It was good to do it in a winning fashion and to be able to hit it at home."
Rodriguez's home run into the netting over Monument Park in straightaway center field off Shaun Marcum set the tone early a day after the Yankees had been two-hit by Ricky Romero.
"It's just another one on my stats -- no big deal," said Marcum. "It's a great accomplishment for him, but I'm not worried about him hitting 600 home runs. I'm more concerned with us losing the game. That's what we're here for -- to play baseball, not worry about records."
Rodriguez wasn't the only one who appeared to benefit from his after-hours conversation; Jeter, who entered the game with just six hits in his past 28 at-bats, recorded his first four-hit game since July 2009 and scored three runs.
Mark Teixeira continued his torrid hitting of late with a pair of RBI knocks. Teixeira doubled to right-center to bring home Jeter in the third, then dunked a single into left-center to drive in Brett Gardner and Jeter in the fifth, doubling the Bronx Bombers' advantage to four runs.
Teixeira had seven RBIs in the three-game set with the Blue Jays and has knocked in 33 runs in the 30 games since the start of July.
That was enough support for Hughes, who earned his 13th win despite suffering from a cold aggravated by 89-degree heat on an August afternoon in the Bronx. Hughes was effective if not very efficient, allowing one run on five hits in 5 1/3 innings. He departed having thrown 99 pitches.
Beating out The Babe
Age at time of 600th career home run
35 years, 8 days
36 years, 196 days
37 years, 81 days
38 years, 16 days
38 years, 139 days
38 years, 201 days
38 years, 220 days
"He threw the ball well, considering that he had a head cold," Girardi said. "I thought he battled really, really well."
Battle was the operative word to Hughes.
"It was a battle for sure," Hughes said. "I was able to make good pitches with guys on base and get out with a win."
Hughes' three biggest outs came in back-to-back innings. With runners at the corners and one out in the third, he was able to induce a popup from Travis Snider before Aaron Hill grounded to third. An inning later, he struck out Edwin Encarnacion with the tying runs in scoring position.
"Limiting the damage was the biggest key," said Hughes, whose 13 wins are tied with CC Sabathia for the team lead and second in the AL.
"It's always nice to get some run support early. It seems like we've done that a lot and given it away a little bit. It was nice to hold on to it."
For Hughes, it was a far cry from Aug. 4, 2007, when he started the game in which Rodriguez slugged his 500th homer. That day, Hughes allowed six runs in 4 2/3 innings, not sticking around long enough to get the victory.
"That's kind of a cool thing," Hughes said of starting the two games three years apart. "Maybe I'll be around for 700."
Hughes chuckled as he said it, fitting the mood of the clubhouse. After two weeks of questions centering on their third baseman's inability to hit a home run at will and their fall in the standings, the Yankees could crack a smile.
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.