ST. PETERSBURG -- Alex Rodriguez was activated from the disabled list and inserted into the Yankees' starting lineup for Monday's series opener against the Rays at Tropicana Field, batting cleanup.
"It's exciting; it's definitely exciting," Rodriguez said. "I'm thrilled to be back. You get the game taken away from you for five weeks and you feel like a little kid coming back. I'm just blessed to be back."
Rodriguez, who singled in a three-run fourth inning to tie Babe Ruth for 40th place on the all-time hits list with No. 2,873, hadn't played since having his left hand fractured by a Felix Hernandez pitch on July 24 in Seattle.
The Yankees went 18-18 without Rodriguez, seeing their lead in the American League East shrink from seven games at the time to just two entering play on Monday.
"We're in first place -- that's the bottom line," Rodriguez said. "If you draw it up in Spring Training and say you've got a two-game lead in September, you'd take that 10 out of 10 times. That's why we build a 10-game lead [on July 18]. Hopefully, the bad baseball is behind us and we can start playing some great Yankee baseball."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that the lineup could use Rodriguez to provide some right-handed balance, as his absence made them more susceptible to left-handed pitching.
"You hope he makes [the lineup] deeper," Girardi said. "I know he hasn't played in a while; he hasn't played in six weeks, and we're just looking for quality at-bats from him. I can't tell you what exactly is going to happen today, but that's our hope."
Girardi said he might play Rodriguez at third base in one of the games against the Rays. Rodriguez said that he believes the speed of the defensive game might present his greatest challenge.
Rodriguez appeared in two rehab games for Class A Advanced Tampa and went 0-for-7 before taking Sunday off to work on the side in preparation for Monday's afternoon game at Tropicana Field. He said that watching the Yankees play without him was "frustrating."
"Just watching in general is not easy," Rodriguez said, "especially when you've got all your brothers out there playing and you feel like you want to be out there participating and being part of our winning DNA. I'm just glad to be back."