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A-Rod shows humility as milestones pile up

It’s no newsflash to say Alex Rodriguez has made a ton of mistakes in his career. The way he’s handling the 2015 season is not one of them. A-Rod has shown humility, stayed out of the limelight and performed. There’s no way the Yankees are battling for first place in the American League East without him.

He’s moving up on the home run chart and his 3,000th career hit collected Friday night in the Bronx was a terrific moment, a first-pitch bomb off Detroit’s Justin Verlander. A-Rod joins Wade Boggs and Derek Jeter as the only three men to go deep out of the 29 that have joined the 3,000 club.

All is far from forgotten with A-Rod but his teammates were thrilled with his milestone, saluting him with a clubhouse champagne toast after the game, and so was the Yankee Stadium crowd. The folks in the Bronx have been mostly on A-Rod’s side all season but really seem to be warming to him lately.

And why shouldn’t they? Rodriguez entered Saturday’s game batting .277 with 13 homers and 35 RBIs. He’s second on the team in games played (63), batting average and home runs, walks (34), on base percentage (.382), slugging percentage (.514) and OPS (.895). He’s third in RBIs. That’s across-the-board excellence.

After Friday’s victory, he praised manager Joe Girardi for his belief in him and thanked the Steinbrenner family, who issued a perfunctory statement congratulating him for No. 3,000.

“A year ago today, I didn’t know if this day would ever come,” Rodriguez said, referring to his 2014 performance-enhancing drug suspension. “Those were some really dark days. There were days last year that I sometimes never thought I would get that uniform back on. To be able to play in this stadium in front of these fans, I’m thankful to the Steinbrenner family and the whole Yankee organization.”

Now, Rodriguez had a contract so there was really no way for the Yankees to keep him off the field. And the issue of paying his milestone bonuses that were part of his 2007 contract is a contentious one with no solution in sight. His Hall of Fame chances seem slim due to his history of PEDs. But he genuninely wants to win again. While talking about No. 3,000, Rodriguez made several references to the final out of the Yankees’ 2009 World Series-clinching win over the Phillies as the greatest moment of his career and one he’d love to re-live.

“I think this would be an awful lot to ask of a player that was 39½ — he’ll be 40 in a month or so — sitting out basically two years, to play as well as he has played,” Girardi said. “But he worked hard. He never stopped believing in himself that he could do this.”

Rodriguez now stands 43 runs away from joining Hank Aaron in the 3,000-hit, 2,000-run, 2,000-RBI club. Only A-Rod, Aaron and Willie Mays have at least 3,000 hits and 600 home runs. Talk about exclusive company. PEDs might make you hit the ball farther than others but they don’t help you hit it. There’s no denying the man’s talent.

Of course, this being A-Rod, there’s always some controversy. When Jeter homered into the left-field seats for No. 3,000, the fan who caught the ball became a mini-celebrity for quickly returning it to him in exchange for some momentos, photos and a clubhouse meeting.

The guy who caught A-Rod’s blast is a professional ball snatcher named Zack Hample, who claims to have caught more than 8,000 game and practice balls at major league stadiums and wrote a book about his techniques. He’s refused to give the ball up and Rodriguez has been trying to collect his home run and milestone balls this season for his daughters.

“The thing I was thinking about is: ‘Where’s ‘Jeet’s’ guy, the guy that caught the ball?’ ” Rodriguez said with a pained smile. “That’s the guy I needed here. Where’s that guy? I wasn’t so lucky.”

Still, Rodriguez said this was more about the memory and not the ball. They can’t take his memory away. Just like he has from ’09. And especially in this case, from a milestone he had to wonder if he’d ever get the chance to experience.

Tribe’s drive of ’95

The Indians honored the 20th anniversary of their 1995 American League championship team with a series of events over the weekend in Progressive Field, including a question-and-answer session in the city’s Playhouse Square theater.

The ’95 Tribe went 100-44 in a season that started late after the remnants of the ‘94 strike. They had 12 walkoff wins and became Cleveland’s first postseason club — and eventually first World Series team — since 1954 before losing the Fall Classic to Atlanta in six games.

It was a coming-out party on the national stage for big Cleveland names like Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga. But the ’95 Tribe also had an incredible collection of grizzled veterans like Tony Pena, Orel Hershiser, Dennis Martinez, Dave Winfield and Eddie Murray.

In the first year of the Bisons-Cleveland affiliation, I covered all of the postseason games in then-Jacobs Field that October and it was a riveting stretch. The division series opener against Boston went until 2:08 a.m., until a walk-off home run in the 13th inning by Pena, now a Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer. Belle missed one of the games of the ALCS win over Seattle with an ankle injury but the Tribe persevered to meet the Braves and won the first Series game in Cleveland in 41 years on Murray’s 11th-inning single.

When the Indians took the field that night amid the music, drum beats and roars and hoots of the fans in the park, it was the movie “Major League” completely coming to life. A surreal memory in this corner’s mind.

R.A. gets a ‘W’ for Dad

R.A. Dickey is expected to rejoin the Blue Jays Monday for their key series at Tampa Bay and will start against the Rays Tuesday. Unbeknowst to most in the park, Dickey pitched with a heavy heart Thursday in Rogers Centre by going into the the eighth inning two days after his father, Harry, died in Nashville.

“I don’t know if I could have done it,” manager John Gibbons told Toronto reporters Friday. “I don’t think most people can comprehend it.”

Dickey didn’t let on the secret he was keeping but reporters noticed he was unusually emotional when simply talking about ovation he received from Blue Jays fans when pulled in the eighth. The 40-year-old outdueled 42-year-old Mets ace Bartolo Colon in a battle of former Bisons standouts and, in a lighter moment, Dickey joked: “I was happy that the young buck won tonight.”

Around & About

• Count me among those sad about the demise next year of Tal’s Hill in Houston. The incline to the 436-foot mark in center field at Minute Maid Park was about the quirkiest thing we had going in MLB and it was hilarious to see guys climb the hill after balls and make a few catches. If there’s safety concerns about the in-play flagpole, just move it. That’s a loss of character right there, all in the name of drink rails for fans. Boo.

• Seeing a new diamond on my list this week as I head over to Marlins Park during the lead-in to the NHL Draft. The top prospects, including Jack Eichel, are scheduled to take batting practice there Wednesday afternoon. Doubt any of them can reach that goofy statue in left-center field that often serves as Giancarlo Stanton’s target. My goal during Tuesday night’s game: Check out the park’s bobblehead museum. Sounds crazy cool.

• Tweet Friday from former Blue Jays and Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay: “Thinking about getting back into baseball working in a front office for a MLB team. Would like to be a team president someday.” Hmmm. Both of his former teams could be in the market for front office help next year.

• The Bisons hit the halfway mark of the season Tuesday night when they host Lehigh Valley. They’ve been a mostly nondescript team so far, other than the April of Chris Colabello that landed him in Toronto and the great work at the plate by Matt Hague. The veteran third baseman has a very good chance to become Buffalo’s first IL Most Valuable Player since Jhonny Peralta earned the award in 2004.