NEW YORK (AP)—The numbers on the specially marked balls for Alex Rodriguez's at-bats must be getting up there — perhaps, uhm, close to say 600.
The Yankees slugger's quest — and by now it is one — for membership in the exclusive 600-homer club extended into its 11th game Monday with an 0-for-5 night against the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I thought I swung the bat better today. I had some pretty good pitches to hit," Rodriguez said after the Yankees' 8-6 loss. "The difference between 0 for 5 and 2 for 5 is small."
A-Rod's drive to become the youngest player and seventh overall to reach the milestone began after he homered off Kansas City reliever Robinson Tejeda on July 22 and has gone on for 48 plate appearances against four teams in three cities.
He's hitless in his last 14 at-bats and is 9 for 43 overall with eight RBIs during the drought. The closest he has come to the homer is a couple of long fly balls that were caught in front of the warning track.
Most of the 47,034 fans remained in their seats Monday for one more chance to see him bat in the ninth, and they got it. But Rodriguez grounded to shortstop against Kevin Gregg to end the game.
"The way I'm swinging, it's probably going to take a while. Everybody get comfortable," Rodriguez said, smiling on Sunday.
Rodriguez began the search for 600 by saying that he isn't going to feel the pressure the same way he did when he was going for No. 500 in 2007, a wait of 10 days and 28 at-bats. He even playfully checked out the marked balls that are switched in before he steps to the plate in one of his first at-bats, way back on July 23.
His manager says Rodriguez can't possibly ignore the significance of the pending homer.
"With the flashbulbs going off all the time and changing the ball, I don't know how you don't think about it," Joe Girardi said.
Nearly a week past his 35th birthday, the three-time MVP appeared loose before Monday's game, hitting many balls over the wall in batting practice, including a rare shot that banged off the black glass of a sports bar in center field — way beyond the 408-foot sign and above monument park.
While Rodriguez needed 41 at-bats to hit his first homer this season and has just 16 home runs this year, a stretch like this while approaching 600 is unusual. Babe Ruth separated 599 and 600 with one at-bat, Hank Aaron two. Barry Bonds' spell was eight, Sammy Sosa's was 13 and Ken Griffey Jr.'s 17, according to STATS LLC. Willie Mays went 21 homerless at-bats before his milestone shot.
Girardi said he hasn't seen the frustration growing, but he did keep his clean-up hitter out of the starting lineup against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Rodriguez struck out looking as a pinch-hitter in his lone at-bat.
"Nothing told me that he didn't have good at-bats or wasn't being patient," Girardi said Monday. "He just didn't get any hits."
In his first game back at Yankee Stadium after a fruitless seven-game road trip to Tampa Bay and Cleveland, Rodriguez was greeted with loud cheers. But fans only in seats beyond the walls in right and left field are standing now with every pitch.
Thousands of camera flashes still burst in a brilliant sparkle with each pitch — think of all the wasted photos — and fans roared when the count turned to Rodriguez's favor in the third. The groans were just as loud when he struck out on a 96 mph pitch from Brandon Morrow.
Rodriguez joked that he doesn't notice the flashes, saying, "I'm used to it; it's been about a month."
Morrow said he noticed the flashes once, but it would be a lot easier to forget that being part of history was one pitch away if it wasn't stamped on the baseballs.
"It's a lot easier to put it out of your mind if they didn't give you a new ball everytime he was up," he said.