"We talk about all the distractions and things that can go on, you put them in a box aside," A-Rod said after he, Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu homered to help the Yankees open the second half with a 7-3 victory over the struggling Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Thursday night.
"The important thing is for us to win games. Every game is a big game for us," Rodriguez added. "We need to be in urgency mode from day one."
With Yankees owner George Steinbrenner watching from his suite at Tropicana Field, Rodriguez hit his major league-leading 31st homer five pitches after Jeter hit his first in nearly a month. Abreu finished the fourth-inning power surge with a two-out solo shot off James Shields (7-5) that made it 4-1.
The Yankees (43-43) won for the sixth time in eight games and climbed back to .500 for the first time since June 23. They trail the Boston Red Sox by 10 games in the AL East, but remain hopeful of getting back in the division race.
Reaching .500 is a start.
"You can't get above it until you get to it. Hopefully it's just a place where we can sort of step from," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I'd like to believe over the next couple of weeks we can establish something about who we are and not really think about records."
Andy Pettitte (5-6) rebounded from allowing eight runs in consecutive starts for the first time in his career, giving up six hits and three runs in 5 2/3 innings. The left-hander, 12-1 in 18 lifetime starts against Tampa Bay, threw 102 pitches before being replaced by Luis Vizcaino with two runners on in the sixth.
Ty Wigginton's sacrifice fly drove in the final run charged to Pettitte, who also yielded an RBI double to Josh Wilson in the third and Jonny Gomes' sacrifice fly in the fourth after the Devil Rays loaded the bases with no outs.
"There were some positives tonight after the last two (starts)," Pettitte said. "You've got to take this as a positive."
Tampa Bay (34-54), which has the worst record in the majors, has lost 14 of 15.
"It's just one game in the second half," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We'll come back tomorrow and play hard."
Rodriguez's homer was the 495th of his career. He homered in his last game before the All-Star break, becoming the first Yankee to have at least 30 by the break since Roger Maris had 33 on his way to hitting 61 in 1961.
The Yankees reached the break under .500 at the latest point in a season since they were 60-61 on Sept. 5, 1995. But they will play eight of their first 12 following the break against Tampa Bay.
Rodriguez reached base on third baseman Akinori Iwamura's second-inning fielding error and scored on Abreu's double to right.
Jeter's first homer since June 16 snapped a 1-1 tie, and A-Rod gave New York a 3-1 lead.
Shields settled down to strike out Hideki Matsui and get Jorge Posada to fly to center, then faltered again when Abreu hit New York's third homer of the inning. The Yankees added a run in the fifth when Jeter grounded into a double play with the bases loaded. They went up 6-2 in the sixth on Posada's RBI double.
Abreu, who was 3-for-4, finished his three-RBI night with a run-scoring single off Jon Switzer in the eighth.
"I thought I pitched pretty well besides the one inning," said Shields, who allowed nine hits and six runs in six innings. "These guys will kill you. You can't make mistakes. You get behind in the count. These guys will make you pay."
- Shields has lost five of his last six decisions after beginning the season 6-0.
- Pettitte is 7-1 in 10 career starts at Tropicana Field.
- When Shields walked Melky Cabrera in the first, it ended a stretch in which the right-hander had not yielded a pass to 114 consecutive batters.
- Rodriguez has 29 homers and 80 RBI in 119 games against Tampa Bay.
- Devil Rays 1B Carlos Pena extended his hitting streak to nine games with an eighth-inning single.