Robinson Cano homered for the third time in four games and Melky Cabrera contributed an unusual two-run infield ground-rule double, backing Chien-Ming Wang and helping the Yankees to a 7-1 victory over the Royals on Friday.
The victory was the Yankees' fourth in five games against cellar-dwelling Kansas City, helping New York improve its record since the All-Star break to a Major League-best 16-7.
"For us, every win is important right now in the second half," Cano said. "[If] we want to make it to the playoffs, we need to win some games."
Rodriguez's last home run came on July 25 at Kansas City, and the return of Royal blue uniforms to the mound didn't spur the Major Leagues' leader off his perch of 35 homers.
Then again, it hasn't mattered -- with Rodriguez joking that perhaps he could become a "choppy hitter," he has concentrated more on a line-drive approach, which translated to a double in three at-bats, plus a sacrifice fly and a walk that spurred a sellout crowd of 54,246 to vociferously boo Royals left-hander Odalis Perez.
"He's there," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I'm fine. The home run's going to come now, instead of, 'Let's wait for it.' It's just going to come by nature of the fact that he's playing the game of baseball."
With the Yankees scoring 50 runs over their last five games, opponents have had more to worry about than becoming a historical footnote in some future Rodriguez biography.
Cano got the Yankees started by clubbing a mistake breaking ball for a solo shot -- his 11th -- off Perez in the second inning. New York added two runs in the fourth off Perez as Shelley Duncan and Cano singled, moved up on an Andy Phillips sacrifice bunt, then scored on a Jose Molina sacrifice fly -- his first RBI as a Yankee -- and a booming Johnny Damon double to center field.
"I've just got everything going through right now," said Cano, who came back strong after making two errors in Thursday's matinee. "I've been working hard with [hitting coach Kevin Long] on everything the last two weeks, getting here earlier than everybody and hitting in the cage."
In his last 20 games, Cano is batting .462 (36-for-78) with five home runs and 20 RBIs.
"He's so much calmer at the plate -- he's not jumping all over the place, not swinging at everything," Torre said. "He's got a little bit better idea out of the strike zone."
Cabrera, who matched a season high with three hits, brought home a fifth run with an unorthodox ground-rule double in the sixth. Cabrera smacked a liner up the middle that ricocheted off pitcher Ryan Braun's right foot and shot off into the field-level seats behind the Yankees' dugout, allowing Phillips and Molina to score.
"Unbelievable," Cabrera said. "Good swing. Maybe a base hit, but [it was a] double, and two RBIs."
"That ball was smoked," Torre said. "He hit that ball hard. It certainly made the game less stressful for us."
And for Wang, who has gritted past a run of threatening scenarios in his recent starts. He kept that string of success alive by stifling Kansas City.
Wang allowed a run in the second inning as Kansas City strung together three of the seven hits he'd allow, including an RBI single by Ross Gload, but the right-hander otherwise settled in, throwing the hard sinker that the Yankees have long come to savor.
"I didn't try to think too much and played catch with the target," Wang said.
Molina, catching Wang for just the second time, hasn't needed much time to see what all the fuss has been about.
"It's awesome," Molina said. "It's a hard, heavy sinker, and it's hard to pick it up. It's not like 89 [mph]; it's 93 and 94. It's a little bit tough, especially when he's throwing strikes."
Wang hurled seven innings to pick up his team-leading 13th victory and his 10th win in his last 11 decisions, walking one and striking out three. Pitching coach Ron Guidry credited Wang's willingness to make slight alterations to his form for the recent success, which has spanned three consecutive victories.
"He's been predominantly pitching one way, with sinkerballs away," Guidry said. "That's where it's effective. It's tough for him to throw sinkers in to left-handers, because it always comes back over the plate. We talked about [going] in with four-seamers, your best fastballs, 94, 95, 96 mph."
In his chase for history, Rodriguez had a chance to make -- well, history. No batter in Major League history has hit a grand slam for his 500th home run, but Rodriguez came to bat with the bases loaded as part of New York's three-run sixth inning. Rodriguez instead settled for a well-hit sacrifice fly to right.
He'd have one more chance to become the 22nd member of the 500 home run club in the eighth inning, as rain began to pelt the playing field and thunderclaps drew "oohs" and "ahhs" from those fans brave enough not to seek cover.
Working against Braun, Rodriguez jumped on the first pitch and momentarily spurred hope that his long-awaited pursuit was over. His fly ball died in the glove of Royals right fielder Mark Teahen; the cinematic ending was not to be, though A-Rod admitted that a preview had crossed his mind.
"I thought of 'The Natural' there, with the lightning and the rain," Rodriguez said. "I was looking for my 'Wonderboy' bat, but I couldn't find it. It fell a little short, but that was a perfect setting to end this dramatic week."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less