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Victor Martinez Is Back, But So Is A-Rod

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The Tigers are in New York this weekend and they'll finally have Victor Martinez back in the lineup against the Yankees.

Martinez has been on the disabled list with left knee inflammation since May 19.

"He said he feels good," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. "He seemed to feel like he was ready."

The Tigers' offense can use him. The offense has been inconsistent all year long. It's a big part of the reason the Tigers (34-32) are in third-place in the AL Central, 5.5 games behind the first-place Kansas City Royals.

Martinez is batting .215 with one home run and 15 RBI so far this season. Last year, Martinez finished second in AL MVP voting. He batted .335 with 32 HRs and 103 RBI.

If the Tigers want to make the playoffs, they'll need Martinez to produce.

Despite the importance of Martinez's return, the big story Friday night will be Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod is one hit away from reaching the milestone of 3,000 career hits.

Hence, the Tigers could have a front row seat for history. Yankee Stadium was abuzz on Thursday night after A-Rod had two hits and had a chance to get another hit.

Rodriguez, who is batting .278 with 12 homers and 34 RBI, has had an impressive return to MLB following his one-year suspension for using performance enhancement drugs.

Even more impressive is that A-Rod has led the Yankees to a 36-30 record, second place and one game out in the AL East.

Conventional wisdom held that ARod wouldn't be able to come back from his suspension and be productive. After all, Rodriguez, who will turn 40 next month, returned to the diamond with two surgically-repaired hips. He's also fighting the realities of father time and hostile fans rooting against him.

Some thought A-Rod would have been so bad, so lame he would have been shamed out of the game by now because he simply wouldn't be able to perform.

MLB's hopes were that the Yankees would have released the former All-Star. Baseball would have won and A-Rod would have lost.

Instead, A-Rod seized the moment. He's flourished in his return.

Recently, Rodriguez knocked in his 2,000 run. Only Hank Aaron has more RBI than Rodriguez, now the American League RBI king.

"For me, in a weird way, the time off was a blessing in disguise," said Rodriguez. "I was able to get some rest, to change my workout regimen a little bit. I just feel like I'm in a better place and more explosive, I think."

At this point, he's the AL Comeback Player of the Year.

The crowd at Yankee Stadium cheered Rodriguez on Thursday. There have been cheers the whole way through, in fact.

They started at spring training in Tampa when he took his first at-bat since August 2013.

They continued on Opening Day when he was announced to the home crowd. A-Rod got the loudest cheers. And they've continued every time he's delivered.

The Commissioner's office had to be embarrassed as Yankee Stadium gave Rodriguez a standing ovation when he passed Willie May's mark of 660 career home runs.

"All of this is pretty crazy," A-Rod said afterward. "A year ago today, I never thought that I would ever get a curtain call or be hitting in the middle of the lineup for the New York Yankees, helping our team win."

There have been many great comeback stories in sports, including George Foreman's return to the ring at age 38 after a 10-year retirement, Michael Jordan's three straight titles after a two-year layoff after he quit the NBA in the height of his career and Mario Lemieux's return to NHL three years after his Hodgkin's lymphoma forced him to quit.

Still, this comeback may end up as the most-documented and overanalyzed this country has seen. Without question, all eyes were on Rodriguez and he's delivered.

But most, especially MLB, was waiting for the epic fail. It never came and neither did that Bronx cheer.

It's been good to hear fans supporting A-Rod because it's the same reaction others - including Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz - got after their returns from steroid suspensions.

The Bronx will be loud on Friday night. Tigers' pitchers, however, hope to delay the celebration.