NEW YORK -- For Alex Rodriguez, hitting is no big mystery.
"It's a matter of getting a good pitch and putting a good swing on it," Rodriguez said after he had three hits including his 27th home run of the season in the New York Yankees 6-4 victory over Detroit on Thursday. "You have the ability. It's a matter of going out and being assertive with the swing."
So how come A-Rod was 0-for-10 and 1-for-24 going into Thursday's game?
That's the mystery of baseball.
Rodriguez offered some explanation.
"I swung the bat much better," he said. "It's a little of everything. When you swing well, it doesn't matter what they throw. The focus is not on what I do. The focus is on what the team does."
But Rodriguez was the American League MVP last season and the highest paid player in the game. So it's hard to avoid the focus, especially in a season when he has committed 22 errors, gone through long hapless stretches at bat and been the target of repeated booing at Yankee Stadium.
It was a welcome change for him when the sellout crowd demanded a curtain call following his seventh-inning home run and manager Joe Torre nudged him out of the dugout. "I didn't think about it," Rodriguez said. "I haven't had one in awhile."
Before Rodriguez homered, Detroit manager Jim Leyland was ejected by plate umpire James Hoye for complaining on balls and strikes. It was his second ejection this season.
"I didn't like a couple of situations that were called," he said. "But I didn't put on a big show. I was down in the dugout."
After he was ejected, Leyland came on the field, stopped arguing during the singing of God Bless America, and then resumed the argument, with crew chief Larry Young separating him from Hoye.
"In my opinion, the umpire got real trigger happy. I felt there was absolutely no just cause to throw me out of that game," Leyland said.
Randy Johnson (15-10) allowed a pair of early home runs to Magglio Ordonez and Omar Infante -- the only hits he allowed through eight innings. Then a leadoff walk in the ninth followed by Marcus Thames' 24th homer made it close and spoiled Johnson's day.
"I was disappointed about the ninth inning," he said. "That's me."
Johnson struck out eight and walked one. Eight quality innings didn't mean much to him. "I didn't pitch a quality ninth," he said.
After Thames' homer, Mariano Rivera finished for his 33rd save in 36 chances. He gave up a double to Ordonez off the wall in right-center, then retired Carlos Guillen, pinch-hitter Sean Casey and Brandon Inge on groundouts.
Rivera had an MRI exam on his right forearm before the game. The scan showed a mild muscle strain in his right elbow but no structural damage.
After Rodriguez homered in the eighth, Robinson Cano followed with a double and scored on a single by Bernie Williams, who had two RBI.
Bobby Abreu hit a two-out, two-run single that broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning, and scored another run on a two-out hit by Rodriguez in the third.
New York, which won five of seven from the Tigers this year, is a season-high eight games over second-place Boston, its largest AL East lead since August 2004. Detroit, which has lost six of eight, nine of 13 and 15 of 22, remained 4½ games ahead of second-place Chicago in the AL Central.
Jeremy Bonderman (11-7) gave up four runs and 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings.
"I'm throwing the ball like I have been," Bonderman said. "They are just finding holes. I feel like there are not too many hard hit balls. Right now, it's not going my way."
Ordonez put the Tigers in front leading off the second with his 18th home run. He had been batting .242 since the All-Star break and had a stretch of 119 at-bats without a homer from July 9 through Aug. 16.
The Yankees tied it in the third on a double by Abreu and a bloop RBI single by Rodriguez.
An inning later, the Yankees loaded the bases with two out on hits by Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon and a walk to Derek Jeter. Abreu delivered a single, driving in Cabrera and Damon. Rodriguez opened the fifth with a double and scored on a single by Williams for a 4-1 lead.
Infante got that run back for Detroit with a leadoff homer in the sixth, his third of the season.
- Jeter extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
- Ordonez's homer was the 18th of his career against the Yankees and eighth in 32 games at Yankee Stadium.
- Damon stole his 24th base, Rodriguez his 12th and Jeter his 28th, all against Ivan Rodriguez -- who had not allowed as many as three steals in a game since Sept. 16, 2005, when the Angels swiped four against him.