Alex Rodriguez drew one step closer.
A step closer to fourth on the all-time home run list and a step closer to a possible showdown with the Yankees in front of an arbitrator.
Rodriguez, who entered Sunday night in his worst slump of the season, hit career homer No. 659 in the first inning of the Yankees' 6-4 victory, driving a 2-and-2 curveball from Mets lefthander Jonathon Niese off the top of the right-centerfield wall into the Yankees' bullpen. It was the fifth homer of the season for A-Rod, who entered the game in a 3-for-24 skid.
The blast pulled A-Rod within one of Willie Mays for fourth on the career home run list. Tying Mays, according to his contract, would trigger the first of a handful of $6-million homer bonuses.
But the Yankees made it clear in a private meeting with Rodriguez in February that they plan to withhold that bonus, and any others. From their perspective, all of those achievements are tainted by his PED use and are not marketable milestones.
After he hit two homers April 17, when he was asked if he was distracted by the prospect of a potential war with his club over the 660 bonus, Rodriguez said, "Not at all."
He added: "I try not to think about it. I'm just really focusing on trying to help the team win."
Rodriguez, whose homer drew the Yankees within 2-1, had several more chances to tie Mays.
He batted during the Yankees' four-run second and doubled down the leftfield line. Mets leftfielder Michael Cuddyer spiked his throw into the infield for an error that allowed Chris Young to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead. Young touched the plate a split-second before Rodriguez, trying for third on the play, was tagged out to end the inning.
A-Rod bounced into a forceout in the fifth, giving him his second RBI of the game and 13th of the season, and lined out to left to end the seventh.
Rodriguez batted sixth the night he hit two homers against the Rays in St. Petersburg, and Joe Girardi rewarded him by putting him in the three-hole. But the 3-for-24 slump began a day later, and A-Rod's chase for 660 started to look similar to his chase for 600.
Rodriguez hit the 599th homer of his career on July 22, 2010 -- a seventh-inning shot off the Royals' Robinson Tejeda at the Stadium -- and stayed there for 13 long days.
Finally, on Aug. 4 against Shaun Marcum of the Blue Jays at the Stadium, Rodriguez connected on No. 600, a first-inning blast.
Before Sunday night's game, Girardi said he didn't think A-Rod was putting too much pressure on himself.
"I haven't sensed it," Girardi said. "I thought he hit some balls pretty well in Detroit [last Monday through Thursday]. It's not the easiest ballpark to hit balls out in. I haven't sensed it yet, but if I [did], I'd probably sit down and talk to him."
At least for now, it appears as if that talk will not be necessary.