"What a player," said starter Jeremy Guthrie. "To come off the [disabled list] like that -- I throw that fastball in on the black inside and he just takes it for a home run. What a hitter. It's a real special at-bat for him. He stepped up in the big moment right there, center stage, and does what he does best."
And if one star-turn wasn't enough, the Yankees provided another. CC Sabathia threw a shutout, holding the Orioles' offense to just four hits. Sabathia's gem marked the first time since April 2006 that Baltimore had fallen victim to a complete-game shutout at home.
"He needed one run -- that's all he needed," said manager Dave Trembley. "Tonight belonged to Sabathia, the way he pitched. He had it all going for him. He did what he had to do. He pitched a tremendous game."
Rodriguez, who had been sidelined since early March with a right hip ailment that ultimately required surgery, came up in the first inning with two men on base. Guthrie had walked the two previous batters on 11 pitches and tried to sneak a fastball past Rodriguez, who turned and drilled the pitch over the left-field fence.
That home run marked the first by a Yankees third baseman this season. It also represented the 46th home run allowed by the O's pitching staff, which is the highest total of any American League team.
"The location of the pitch was pretty darn good," said Trembley. "[Rodriguez's] just a great hitter."
"He's probably been thinking for the last month that he's going to swing first pitch no matter who he faces," added first baseman Aubrey Huff. "It just so happened that I think he was cheating a lot on the fastball. It was a good pitch, but good players like him, if he's looking for a pitch and he gets it, most times he's going to hit it hard."
The Orioles had a scoring opportunity of their own in the bottom of the first, thanks to back-to-back singles from Brian Roberts and Adam Jones. Jones got thrown out on the back end of an attempted double-steal, though, and Baltimore went eight innings before pushing another runner to scoring position.
"The double-steal would have put us in good shape," lamented Trembley. "Even if we only scored one in the first, it would have done something for us to get back on the board, maybe turn the tide a little bit. Sabathia just kept making big pitch after big pitch. I wish it would have turned out different for us."
Guthrie settled down, holding the Yankees without any more runs through the sixth inning, but he wasn't able to match Sabathia. New York's southpaw retired 21 of 22 batters between the second inning and the eighth, taking control of the game and not allowing the Orioles to gather any semblance of momentum.
The closest they came to scoring off Sabathia in the middle innings was a warning-track fly ball to center field by Nick Markakis. Roberts drew a two-out walk in the third, and the O's couldn't get another baserunner until the ninth. And then, after netting two singles, they watched Sabathia strike out the side.
"That's the Sabathia you saw last year in the National League, working both sides of the plate," said Huff. "You look up and down the lineup and there was a bunch of oh-fers tonight -- with us and over there, too. You've got to give credit to Jeremy Guthrie. He made one bad pitch and it wasn't even that bad a pitch. It was just a well pitched game for both sides, and just one swing of the bat pretty much made the game."
Still, the Orioles could take solace in getting a solid outing from Guthrie. The right-hander hasn't won since his second start of the season, but his velocity and command have improved over the past two starts.
"It's something that I've been working on," said Guthrie of his improvements. "I've tried to throw harder and better and get better results. Tonight, it was there, but it goes in hard and goes out hard and Alex showed us that. Still, making pitches and location is going to be the most important thing going forward."