>Yanks slugger finishes one shy of Tatis’ big league record

ST. PETERSBURG — Alex Rodriguez entered the sixth inning on Sunday needing seven RBIs to reach the 100 mark for the season. He emerged holding a new American League record.

The Yankees slugger belted a three-run homer and a grand slam in New York’s 10-run frame, leading the Bombers to a 10-2 victory over the Rays in the regular-season finale and reaching a special achievement he had joked about minutes earlier.

Knowing he needed four more RBIs for the century mark after homering off Rays starter Wade Davis earlier in the inning, Rodriguez said he was telling teammate Eric Hinske that he might have a chance if Mark Teixeira got aboard to load the bases.

“I was telling him, ‘I may have one shot,'” Rodriguez said. “‘If they load the bases, I might pop one — you never know.’ Obviously, I was joking around. And when I hit it, I just thought of that.”

Rodriguez’s 30th home run of the season made him the first AL player to have seven RBIs in a single inning. The only other Major Leaguer to have seven or more RBIs was Fernando Tatis, who hit two grand slams as a member of the Cardinals to collect eight RBIs in the third inning on April 23, 1999.

Twelve American League players held the previous record with six RBIs in an inning, most recently accomplished by Boston’s David Ortiz on Aug. 12, 2008. The two shots gave Rodriguez 30 homers and an even 100 RBIs to close out a season in which he missed 28 games before coming back from right hip surgery.

“It’s incredible,” Teixeira said. “That’s a high-water mark for any hitter, no matter if he plays 162 games or whatever it is. For Alex to get that, with at least a month that he missed, that’s incredible.”

Rodriguez might never have had the chance for the grand slam had the Rays allowed Andy Sonnanstine to pitch to Teixeira, who was intentionally walked to bring up Rodriguez.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t understand it. I was like, ‘Great!'”

The frozen AL homer leaderboard might lend a hint as to why the Rays pitched around Teixeira with two outs. The first baseman finished tied with Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena, each owning 39 home runs — even though Pena’s season ended on Sept. 7 due to an injury at Yankee Stadium.

Teixeira said he couldn’t tell if that was why the walk had been issued.

“I don’t know — those things don’t matter to me,” Teixeira said. “I don’t think about those things. … They’re still trying to win the game right there. Maybe the numbers worked out where they wanted to pitch to Alex, but it didn’t work out for them there.”

“You’ve got to pick who you want to pitch to, and it worked out really well for us,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Rodriguez’s two homers and seven RBIs confirmed that 2009 would be his 13th season of compiling 30 homers and 100 RBIs, giving him a new Major League record and breaking a tie for 12 seasons with Manny Ramirez and Jimmie Foxx.

Rodriguez has also reached the 30/100 mark in 12 consecutive seasons, tying Foxx’s Major League record, set from 1929-40. Yet Rodriguez said he wasn’t even trying to hit the grand slam that made it all possible.

“I wish I could tell you that,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously, I’m just trying to hit the ball somewhere hard.”