"There's not much time left," Rodriguez said. "I guarantee you that if it was April or May, I probably would have taken a day, no question. Every game is so important."
Habitually one of the earliest reportees to the stadium for games, Rodriguez arrived on Wednesday ready to go through rigorous regimen paces, despite having injured his right ankle in a headfirst slide on Tuesday.
The Yankees, as cautious as would be expected with the probable American League MVP, had different plans. Instead of running sprints in the outfield and taking dozens of cuts in the underground batting cages, Rodriguez found himself grumbling his way to a Manhattan hospital, where tests revealed injuries that left him at an estimated 60 percent.
"You've got to be smart about it," Rodriguez said. "Going to the hospital at 5:15 [p.m.] is something that you're not very excited about. You want to play, you know your body, and you certainly don't want to get into an MRI machine."
While Rodriguez was in transit, Torre ripped up his original lineup card, on which he had optimistically filled in Rodriguez as New York's third baseman and cleanup hitter.
Another version briefly filtered through Torre's mind, showcasing Jorge Posada as the designated hitter and Wilson Betemit at third base, but Rodriguez wouldn't have it -- going through an abbreviated pregame workout at the stadium, he charged past reporters and into the trainers' room, where Torre asked him to prove that a third revision was necessary.
"I know you want to play, but are you going to be able to apply yourself and not be tentative?" Torre recalled asking Rodriguez.
"He wanted to look me in the eyes and make sure I wasn't lying to him," Rodriguez said.
The truth came through in the seventh, as Rodriguez -- the DH, batting fourth -- erased a one-run deficit by turning on a full-count Jarrod Washburn fastball, instantly spoiling six innings of work in which the Seattle left-hander had limited the Yankees to little but Jose Molina's solo homer.
After an error, the Mariners turned Washburn's game over to their September-swelled bullpen, and from there the Yankees took control, sending 12 men to the plate in the inning.
After Rodriguez's homer, George Sherrill offered two walks before pinch-hitter Posada looked at a 3-1 Sean Green pitch to force home the go-ahead run. Johnny Damon bounced into a RBI fielder's choice, and Melky Cabrera singled through the right side with Damon in motion. Derek Jeter's two-run double off the wall in right-center preceded Rodriguez's second homer of the inning, a blast to left field that earned him a curtain call from the crowd of 52,538.
"I can't relate to it. It's unbelievable," said Jeter, who stood at home plate applauding Rodriguez's memorable feat. "I haven't seen anything like it in all my years playing. It's not that easy."
The home runs gave Rodriguez 512 for his career, moving him past Mel Ott and tying Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews for 17th place on the all-time list.
Even though Rodriguez said this is no time to ponder his place in history, Torre didn't hesitate to marvel once more.
"His whole career is something special -- the numbers he's put up at his age, and how he takes care of himself," Torre said. "Sometimes how important this game is to him gets in the way, because he needs to do so much. This year he's been a gamer."
The big inning left 21-year-old Joba Chamberlain in line to earn his first Major League victory, having pitched a scoreless seventh in relief of starter Phil Hughes. Chamberlain said that he didn't realize how the official scoring worked until Mariano Rivera congratulated him after the game; crediting Rodriguez with helping him get win No. 1 would be no problem.
"The man's incredible," Chamberlain said. "He's one of the best in the game, and he still works every day to become better. That's a tribute to him and his workout. He understands that it takes hard work. You can't get at the top and stay there. You have to work even harder."
Raul Ibanez reached Hughes for a two-run homer in the fourth, but otherwise the right-hander appeared in command, tying a career high with six strikeouts, and scattering five hits and walking two in a 97-pitch effort.
"Especially coming off three not very good starts, it's definitely one that I can work off of," Hughes said. "And it also feels good to know that I didn't just go out there and [not] know what I did differently. I know where I need to be right now, and that's a good feeling."
The outburst helped the Yankees bookend their nine-game homestand with high notes. A sweep of the Red Sox was followed by the doldrums of dropping two of three to the Devil Rays, a luxury the Yankees can ill afford. But picking up two wins against the AL Wild Card-contending Mariners provides a springboard to an important trip to Kansas City, Toronto and Boston.
"We have a lot of work to do here," Rodriguez said. "We've talked about how, from July on, every game for us is a postseason game. We just need to take small bites."