With two on and two out in the ninth and the Orioles' Koji Uehara protecting a two-run lead, Rodriguez fell into a 1-2 hole. Uehara's fourth pitch of the at-bat, a fastball, flirted with the inside corner.
"I don't think it was close," Rodriguez said. "It was over the white line."
"It was close," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "It was obviously a better pitch than strike one to [Matt] Wieters. I'll tell you that."
"I didn't get that call," said Uehara. "[I'm] a little disappointed."
After that pitch, a small smile crept across Rodriguez's face as he looked at the Orioles' dugout, which had all but emerged onto the field to celebrate a win.
"From where I was looking, I could see their whole dugout," Rodriguez said. "And their whole dugout literally jumped ... hoping or expecting that to be strike three. So they laughed at me, and I laughed at them a little."
Rodriguez got the last laugh on the next pitch, a fastball Uehara didn't get inside enough.
"Al's at-bat, [Uehara] left it over the plate, and he disposed of it," starter A.J. Burnett said. "A-Rod did what A-Rod's supposed to do."
This isn't the first time that A-Rod has done what A-Rod's supposed to do -- especially in the ninth inning of an autumn game started by Burnett. There was, of course, the pair of Game 2s in last year's postseason that were started by Burnett and prolonged by Rodriguez homers in the ninth off American League closers. The Yankees won then, just as they did on Friday night.
"That was a big win," manager Joe Girardi said. "We've been struggling scoring runs. We had some guys on and just couldn't seem to get the hit. And then Alex gets the big hit."
Indeed, the Bombers were one pitch away from their sixth loss in seven games on this road trip, their ninth in 11 and their fourth in the last five against the last-place -- albeit rejuvenated -- Orioles. Instead, with one mighty swing -- and with the Rays' loss to the Angels -- they're back in first place.
"When you're down and you win like that, that's pretty big, especially the way we've been playing," said catcher Jorge Posada, who was a catalyst for the ninth-inning rally with an 11-pitch at-bat that culminated in a leadoff single. "A win like this really helps us -- helps us mentally."
Burnett was more concise: "This win is huge."
With all the drama surrounding his ninth-inning blast, it's easy to forget that Rodriguez provided the Yankees' only other run of the evening with a solo shot to the Baltimore bullpen leading off the second off Baltimore starter Kevin Millwood, who pitched seven otherwise clean innings.
Rodriguez's second homer may have gotten Burnett off the hook, but it's debatable whether the right-hander belonged on it in the first place. Burnett surrendered three runs on six hits in seven innings, the victim of a pair of solo shots by Adam Jones in the fourth and Robert Andino in the seventh. Still, he views this as another positive step in his September recovery.
"This is probably the best I've felt in a long time -- as far as just everything," he said. "Every time out, they're not giant steps, but they're steps forward."
Burnett was especially proud of his concentration and his refusal to let what happened in the past -- earlier this season and earlier on Friday night -- hinder his performance.
"It was the next pitch, the next batter. Nothing built up," he said. "I was focused on my job tonight."
The Yankees were thus able to wrench victory from the grasp of defeat late, reversing a disconcerting trend that had emerged on this trip of losing close games. A string of one-run, late-inning losses -- including three walk-off defeats in four nights -- had soured the mood in New York. Rodriguez sweetened it on Friday.
"This has been a tough road trip for us," said Girardi. "It's a big win. We needed it."