Rodriguez belted his 50th and 51st home runs off Bannister to ignite the New York Yankees' 11-5 victory over the Royals on Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals got a positive buzz from a three-inning shutout debut by pitching prodigy Luke Hochevar. The Yankees also got fine pitching from Andy Pettitte and homers from Johnny Damon and Wilson Betemit. But Rodriguez was the show for 35,518 fans.
"This is no surprise," Royals manager Buddy Bell said. "This guy has been doing it for a long time."
So long that Rodriguez has 515 homers in his career. And these two blasts made him the first Yankees player to reach the 50-homer mark since 1961, when Roger Maris hit 61 and Mickey Mantle hit 54.
Both homers came on 3-1 counts, and that's what aggravated Bannister.
"Honestly, I wasn't disappointed in the home runs, because that's what great players do," Bannister said. "I was disappointed that I let myself get into the counts that I did. When you have to give in to a great hitter like that and you have to throw a fastball or you have to throw a strike and they know that, it allows them to take a completely different swing off you."
Each time on 3-1, Bannister fired a fastball that was pounced upon.
"I've faced a lot of other good home run hitters, and when you stay ahead of them, you do all right," he said.
"But when they know a strike's coming, they're a lot more dangerous."
Damon, in the third inning, got the Yankees' party started with a two-run homer. Yep, on a 3-1 count.
"Damon surprised me a little bit but, A-Rod, you expect him to take swings like that. He didn't hit the balls over the scoreboard; the balls were hit a couple of feet over the fence."
Well, yeah. Rodriguez's two-run shot in the fourth inning was a 416-foot arc that dropped just behind the center-field wall. He led off a seven-run sixth inning with a drive into the left-field bullpen.
After A-Rod's second homer, Bannister admitted to a rare flash of emotion.
"I got a little frustrated, and I don't let myself do that," Bannister said. "I kind of overthrow the pitch to [Hideki] Matsui and hit him in the foot, and walked [Jorge] Posada. At that point, I felt like I let my team down."
At that point, Bell replaced Bannister with Ryan Braun, and the inning soon became a seven-run knockout. Betemit clubbed a three-run homer, and 12 Yankees tramped to the plate before the inning was over. With that kind of a lead, Pettitte was on easy street and let the bullpen take over in the seventh.
A bright spot for the Royals was Hochevar's Major League debut, which included three shutout innings.
Hochevar, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, was a September callup from Triple-A Omaha. He's the Royals' third first-round pick to debut this season, joining Alex Gordon (2005) and Billy Butler (2004).
"The kid came in and threw well, which is a positive in this situation -- against the Yankees, and they're battling for a playoff spot," Bell said. "It's pretty impressive."
Hochevar gave up one hit in each of the last three innings with a walk, a hit batsman and a strikeout. He was a bit over-amped, he admitted.
"I got behind quite a few times and I didn't locate my breaking pitches," Hochevar said. "I was jumping out of my skin and just kind of losing them and just kind of spitting out. I basically just had to go after them with my fastball."
The hit batsman happened to be Mr. Home Run, Rodriguez. A pitch sailed up and hit him in the left elbow in the eighth inning. Nothing sinister intended.
"I just came out of my skin and it popped up and stayed in," Hochevar said.
The win was the Yankees' fourth straight and put them 5 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Yanks lead the Tigers in the AL Wild Card race by three games.
The loss was the Royals' fourth straight as they seek a 63rd victory, the assurance that they will not lose 100 games for the fourth straight season.
"It seems like we haven't won forever," Bell said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less