Alex Rodriguez is on the verge of joining an elite group that includes Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.
Rodriguez looks to become the fourth Yankee to reach the 50-homer plateau on Saturday night when New York continues a three-game series with the Kansas City Royals.
Rodriguez hit his 49th homer of the season on Friday as New York (79-62) won 3-2. The two-time AL MVP has homered in three straight games, and is 12-for-22 (.545) with five homers and 10 RBIs in his last six.
“It’s certainly been a magical season,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve felt it since spring training, and I just have to keep the ride going.”
His home run total is his highest since he hit a career-high 57 in 2002 with Texas.
The Yankees have won seven World Series titles and 13 pennants since 1961, but that’s the last season they had a player reach 50 homers. Maris finished with 61 homers - still the AL record - to break Ruth’s former major league record of 60, while Mantle fell short with 54.
New York is three games ahead of Detroit for the AL wild card lead. The Yankees are 14-3 against the Royals (62-78) since the start of last year, including 7-1 in 2007.
Jorge Posada also homered Friday, and Bobby Abreu drove in the go-ahead run when he doubled in Derek Jeter in the seventh inning as New York won its third straight despite going 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Rookie reliever Joba Chamberlain continued his fantastic start, yielding two hits in two scoreless innings. He hasn’t allowed a run in his first 14 1-3 innings, scattering 11 hits and four walks.
The 21-year-old right-hander pitched in the majors for the first time in front of his father, who was stricken with polio at the age of 9 months and is confined to a scooter.
“He’s as proud a father as anybody can be,” Chamberlain said. “It’s good. I’m glad to have him here. At least I got to pitch.”
Andy Pettitte (12-8, 3.82 ERA) had his six-start winning streak for New York snapped in his last outing. He posted a 2.36 ERA to win all six starts in August, but gave up five runs over 6 1-3 innings in an 8-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday.
The veteran left-hander is 10-3 with a 3.05 ERA against the Royals in 16 career starts, and can notch a fourth straight road win. He hasn’t pitched at Kauffman Stadium since 2002, where he’s 5-2 with a 3.42 ERA as a starter.
Royals starter Brian Bannister (12-7, 3.16) looks to win his fifth straight start and bolster his credentials for AL rookie of the year honors. He’s 4-0 with a 2.12 ERA since losing to Toronto on Aug. 12.
The right-hander was outstanding on Sunday, giving up one run and six hits over eight innings in an 8-1 victory at Minnesota.
“I try to adjust my style a little bit and really just pitch to contact,” he said. “It’s nice to strike people out, but if you can go out there and get quick outs and keep your team hitting. It really puts the pressure on the other team and the other pitcher.”
Bannister, who has never faced the Yankees, is 7-2 with a 2.50 ERA in 10 outings since the All-Star break. He’s earned AL rookie of the month honors twice this year, and has the lowest ERA of all rookies.